Controller or (and?) destroyer?
That’s not the long-awaited sequel to Peter Weir’s naval classic, Master and Commander, but rather the question Liverpool’s decision-makers must ask themselves and explore with ruthless efficiency in the market ahead of the club’s Premier League opener at Stamford Bridge in exactly a week’s time.
Sky Sports’ highly reliable Melissa Reddy confirmed on Twitter earlier this week – amid talks with Southampton over their resident destroyer Romeo Lavia – that these are two profiles ‘the club are looking at’.
Dialogue open between Southampton and Liverpool over Romeo Lavia. He wants the move but compromise still needed over the fee. LFC working on other options. They are in talks with Fluminense for Andre. Clear the club are looking at two profiles: controller, progressive destroyer.
— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) August 2, 2023
Andre at Fluminense, it should be emphasised, should not be considered an alternative to the Belgian national given his status as a controller.
What can Liverpool expect from these profiles?
Let’s kick things off by taking a look at Liverpool’s current squad, what they’ve lost and what they need.
“Going through their shortlist of midfield targets, its clear to me that Liverpool are after two distinct and different profiles,” Reddy spoke on Sky Sports (via Football Daily).
“One is a controller – someone who dictates the tempo of the game and allows Liverpool to lionise possession – in the mould of what Thiago offers.
“The other is a progressive destroyer – a player very skilled in breaking up opposition attacks but also sparking Liverpool’s – which is what Fabinho gave them.
“For the latter profile, Liverpool have heavily pursued Romeo Lavia of Southampton.”
The journalist went on to add: “We know, as we reported on Sky Sports News as well, that they have made contact with Fluminense over Andre. He fits the other profile of player; he is more of a controller. He profiles very similarly to Thiago.”
Perhaps of most interest, however, was Reddy’s admission that: “In an ideal scenario, Liverpool would get both those profiles over the line this summer as well as recruit a defender. But ideal scenarios hardly ever happen in the transfer window. I am told Liverpool are working on multiple solutions to give Jurgen Klopp exactly what he needs for the season ahead.”
What to expect from a destroyer virtually speaks for itself: tackles, interceptions, blocks. A progressive destroyer, however, must be capable of both carrying the ball forward and playing progressive passes.
Here’s what Fabinho averaged per 90 for Liverpool between his debut campaign and the 2022/23 season, courtesy of FBref:
Progressive Carries average (what FBref define as ‘carries that move the ball towards the opponent’s goal line at least 10 yards from its furthest point in the last six passes, or any carry into the penalty area’): 0.83
Progressive Passes average (what FBref define as ‘completed passes that move the ball towards the opponent’s goal line at least 10 yards from its furthest point in the last six passes, or any completed pass into the penalty area’): 5.24
Romeo Lavia’s PCA (2022/23): 0.89
Romeo Lavia’s PPA (2022/23): 4.13
Romeo Lavia’s Tackles per 90 average (2022/23): 2.43 (1.24 for tackles that won back possession for Southampton)
Romeo Lavia’s Interceptions per 90 average (2022/23): 1.34
Romeo Lavia’s Blocks per 90 average (2022/23): 1.90
Even when accounting for such numbers to fall – as they did with Fabinho following his switch from Monaco to Liverpool – after a move to Anfield, it’s difficult to dispute the notion that Lavia could be a highly effective operator for us. Even, remarkably, at only 19 years of age.
That said, how does some of the competition locally stack? Taking into account a relatively broad age profile range (20-25) and at least 20 90s of top-flight football played:
TACKLES per 90 average (2022/23)
Tyler Adams: 3.71
Moises Caicedo: 2.87
Cheick Doucoure: 2.50
Romeo Lavia: 2.43
Vitaly Janelt: 2.20
INTERCEPTIONS per 90 average (2022/23)
Cheick Doucoure: 1.82
Moises Caicedo: 1.60
Tyler Adams: 1.46
Romeo Lavia: 1.34
Vitaly Janelt: 1.18
BLOCKS per 90 average (2022/23)
Tyler Adams: 2.00
Romeo Lavia: 1.90
Cheick Doucoure: 1.53
Moises Caicedo: 1.23
Vitaly Janelt: 1.18
PCA per 90 average (2022/23)
Moises Caicedo: 1.09
Romeo Lavia: 0.89
Tyler Adams: 0.79
Cheick Doucoure: 0.58
Vitaly Janelt: 0.57
PPA per 90 average (2022/23)
Moises Caicedo: 6.28
Tyler Adams: 5.67
Cheick Doucoure: 4.55
Romeo Lavia: 4.13
Vitaly Janelt: 3.35
Though not the absolute standout across the relevant metrics, the numbers are far from uninspiring – especially when bearing in mind Lavia’s relative inexperience and youth.
So what would we be looking at when it comes to a controller? If we’re thinking of the Thiago Alcantara mould, at its absolute most basic, we’ll most likely lean heavily on pass attempts, completion rates and possession progression (though that alone doesn’t fully encapsulate how the Spaniard manages to dictate play and tempo on the pitch).
Here’s what the former Bayern Munich star averaged per 90 for Liverpool between his debut campaign and the 2022/23 season, courtesy of FBref:
Progressive Passes average: 10.4
Andre’s pass attempts per 90 average (2022/23): 77.0
Andre’s pass completion rate per 90 average (2022/23): 93.3%
Andre’s PPA (2022/23): 5.65
How about we throw in some local competition once again with the aforementioned constraints on our search (making an exception for Aston Villa’s Boubacar Kamara with 19.7 90s registered)?
PPA per 90 average (2022/23)
Bruno Guimaraes: 7.33
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall: 5.16
Douglas Luiz: 4.55
Boubacar Kamara: 4.26
PASS ATTEMPTS per 90 average (2022/23)
Douglas Luiz: 55.8
Bruno Guimaraes: 55.0
Boubacar Kamara: 47.8
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall: 45.1
PASS COMPLETION RATE per 90 average (2022/23)
Boubacar Kamara: 84.8%
Bruno Guimaraes: 83.2%
Douglas Luiz: 82.5%
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall: 75.6%
There will be some adjustment, one might reasonably expect, to the speed and ferocity of English top-flight football. That said, given the rather unique nature of Thiago’s offering in the squad, we’d be inclined to consider opting for the less well-beaten path.
Of course, it’s worth considering that standard metrics alone can’t hope to capture the total essence of what our No.6 offers on the pitch – just a snapshot of profiles that could (could most certainly being the operative word) perform a similar function.
Ideally, however, given what we’ve already lost in Fabinho this summer, a progressive destroyer has to be considered the absolute priority if it comes down to a straight choice between the profiles discussed.
With the likes of Moises Caicedo and Bruno Guimaraes either being unlikely to depart their current outfits without a serious outlay from an interested party or potentially more likely to join a rival (as seems to be the case with the former), however, perhaps we’d be well-advised to consider options beyond those with any Premier League experience.