How would Timo Werner fit on Liverpool?
It sure feels like Liverpool and Timo Werner are on a collision course.
According to The Athletic on Wednesday, Liverpool’s optimal time for submitting a bid will likely be mid-March, a sweet spot when they have previously done deals for the likes of Alisson and Fabinho. The Reds have until an unspecified day in April when Werner’s contract states his $63.4 million release clause expires in order to give RB Leipzig time to garner a replacement before the next season.
The report states that despite contact from Barcelona and Manchester United, Werner is waiting to hear from Liverpool before making a decision. While the report does not state why Werner is waiting for the Reds, the move is seemingly indicative of a preference, great news for Reds fans.
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The biggest question mark about the whole deal is where Werner fits in to Liverpool’s squad. The Reds have asphyxiated the Premier League this season in large part thanks to their attacking trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Roberto Firmino. Brazilian striker Firmino is the biggest threat to Werner’s game time, and the 28-year-old is a critical and established piece of the Jurgen Klopp machine, less of a goalscorer and more of a facilitator. An NFL scout might call Firmino a game manager.
But those at Liverpool might also say that Werner is a threat to Firmino’s game time. While Liverpool has romped through the English top flight in record fashion, the Reds have not always dominated opponents, rather collecting vast quantities of points with timely goals. Liverpool has won a whopping 13 one-goal games this league season; compare that to Manchester City’s dominating league performance last year where they had just nine one-goal victories all year, including three of them coming in the final four matches of the year. Could they use a more consistent attacking threat?
Werner is just that. With 21 goals through 23 Bundesliga matches this season and another six in 10 matches across all other competitions, Werner is a dangerous presence and a ruthless finisher. Judging by his 18.12 xG - already second in the Bundesliga - Werner is actually finishing at a better rate than Robert Lewandowski who is having a historic campaign. Werner’s +2.88 actual goals to expected goals is second in the Bundesliga only to Jadon Sancho’s absurd +5.75. Not only does Werner get a lot of chances, he’s finishing them in bunches.
But how would that type of striker change the dynamic of Liverpool? At the moment they play through the flanks with dynamic full-backs and dangerous wingers; Firmino does far more work off the ball than he does on it. How would the Reds change with a goal hawk up front demanding service?
If you ever needed a visualization on how different the two players are, take a look at their heat maps below. Firmino’s touches from the 3-1 victory over Manchester City are first, contrasted with Werner’s performance against Tottenham in the Champions League where he scored the game’s only goal.
Timo Werner is an outright striker, with the ability to drift out wide and create almost as much as he scores. Firmino is a workhorse, putting in a defensive shift and cropping up everywhere as Liverpool presses opponents to death. It’s almost impossible to tell from Firmino’s heat map which direction Liverpool is attacking - it’s actually left-to-right.
Still, as The Athletic report points out, Firmino is 28 years old and coupled with the 27-year-old Salah and Mane, Werner’s production at 24 is nearly impossible to pass up. His versatile nature too could prove useful, and while he often plays with a striker ahead of him in Patrik Schick, it seems Werner could translate relatively well into a ball-playing striker who could overlap with the world class wingers and full-backs at Anfield.
And yet this move would not be about the future. With Werner scoring in bunches, it would be hard to keep him off the field. In fact, he may want assurances of his involvement at Liverpool prior to any agreement of a move. Still, he might get a significant amount of playing time even if not first choice. Klopp has run the current front three ragged the last two years and likely would be more than happy to see them rested more often. All three have been forced to play through injuries at some point in the last two seasons.
Tactically, putting both Firmino and Werner on the field together would involve a relatively complicated formational shift that Klopp would need to perfect and would not be something the team could just rotate in and out of week to week. In the same vein, Klopp would also be a fool to look for a Firmino replacement in the same mold as the Brazilian given the rarity of his skill-set, but would changing the mold cause a ripple effect in the tactical setup?
Liverpool spent heavily two summers ago, but with the lack of major purchases this season plus the recent successes both domestic and abroad, it’s likely the Reds will have the money. And fit or not, Werner might be too delicious for Jurgen Klopp to pass up.