5 Strikers RB Leipzig should target to replace Timo Werner
- A broad overview of how to use data to scout players.
- Using the aforementioned method to find RB Leipzig a suitable replacement for talisman Timo Werner.
Despite the near-worldwide suspension of all forms of professional football and the uncertainty surrounding the sport in general, one facet of the industry remains strong; the rumour mill.
One of the most trending topics over the past few weeks, or months even, has been the future of highly coveted RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner, as the East German side seem resigned to losing their star player this summer.
Various media outlets have touted several destinations for the 24-year old, including Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Chelsea. Wherever he ends up, however, Leipzig is sure to receive a tidy sum of money for him and will need to replace him as soon as possible.
To this end, the three names prominently mentioned so far have been Mohamed Daramy, Kaio Jorge and Adam Hlozek. But given that their ages are 18, 18 and 17 respectively, it is difficult to see any of them slotting straight into the first-team.
So, who are the ideal candidates to take Werner's place?
To identify a replacement, especially for a player who has been as pivotal to Leipzig as Werner has been over the last four seasons is by no means an easy task. However, it is possible to narrow things down to a select group of players who could potentially be up to the task.
The two main aspects to take into consideration here are:
- Does signing the player in question align with the club's future aspirations or any pre-existing transfer policy?
- Does his style of play fit the tactical system that the manager wishes to implement?
Of course, these are only the footballing reasons to be taken into account. In reality, clubs will often consider other factors, such as the commercial impact, the player's personality, etc. before making the final call.
In addition, a key component of this approach to a transfer is unity behind the scenes. The club administration needs to be in tune with the coaching staff, especially the manager, as it is he who needs to approve point number two before a signing can be confirmed.
A lack of clear communication in these channels can lead to botched deals and in some cases, expensive flops.
Fortunately for Leipzig though, there is every indication that the club is a supremely well-run entity, with a clear goal and vision, evident from their dealings in the transfer market. Since the Red Bull takeover in 2009, RB Leipzig has signed 122 players under the age of 23, compared to just 15 over the age of 30.
Their business model is simple; identify promising talents at the grassroots level, develop them at the club, sell them on for massive profits and repeat the process next season.
However, this is the easy bit. It is point number two that presents a far bigger challenge, both for professional scouts and amateur analysts alike. To correctly identify someone who plays in a similar fashion and can replicate his current form at his new club can never be 100% accurate.
Using data, we can narrow down the search and the so-called 'eye test' can do the rest. But that's about as close as we can get to perfection.
The Search Begins
Keeping the club's transfer history in mind, our search for Leipzig's next striker has been made far easier. We can limit the targets to players who are aged 25 and below, who are not widely known, especially in Europe. This ensures that the club will most likely sign someone young, at a low financial cost.
Thus, we make sure that whoever the club chooses to sign, it will be adhering to its core values and principles of buying low and selling high. In addition, we would want to have a decent sample size for analyzing their performances, so we can add another filter; players who have played at least 750 minutes as a striker in their latest season.
Applying these filters gives us the following list:
It is important to note that this list of players has been generated using WhoScored.com's availability of leagues in detail, which are Europe's top five leagues, Liga NOS (Portugal), Eredivisie (Holland), the Argentina Superliga, Brazilian Serie A, the Russian Premier League, Major League Soccer and 2.Bundesliga, Germany's second tier.
For those too lazy to count, these are still 78 players that need to be analyzed. However, before getting into the nitty-gritty, several players can be discounted right off the bat, thanks to their obvious unavailability (Kylian Mbappe, Anthony Martial et al), either because they are at bigger clubs, have only recently joined their current club or would simply cost too much money.
This round of culling thus leaves us with these players:
We are still left with 64 players, but we do save time by instantly eliminating players who, no matter their quality, are unlikely to be realistic targets.
For our specific case, we need to find those players who fit into Leipzig's high-energy pressing style of play and who can replicate Werner's output in the system.
It is interesting to note that when playing under Julian Nagelsmann, Leipzig's current head coach, attacking players often experience a drastic rise in performance. Hence, any player who is similar to Werner now could very well surpass him within the next couple of years.
As Werner's main function is goalscoring, there are three key metrics we can look at when searching for similar players; shot location shot accuracy and shot quality. For shot location, we can have a look at the distribution of players' shots outside the penalty area, inside the penalty area and inside the six-yard box.
Shot accuracy is simply a measure of the percentage of shots a player manages to hit on target, while shot quality is measured by the player's average expected goals per shot.
So, we first filter by shot location. Werner's shot location distribution is as follows; 14.71% from outside the area, 77.94% inside the penalty area and 7.35% inside the six-yard box. Keeping this in mind, we would prefer players who take a majority of their shots from good locations, i.e inside the area.
Another way to look at this would be ensuring that the number of shots from distance is minimized. Looking at Werner's percentage and allowing for a bit of wiggle room, we can set a benchmark of 20% for shots outside the box as any player registering a higher percentage than that is unlikely to be as prolific as would be required.
As is quite obvious, the previous list of 64 players has now been cut down to a far more manageable 28, which we can reduce even further by applying the next filter, which is shot accuracy.
Essentially, of the remaining players, those who still have a low shot accuracy could prove problematic, as they are taking shots from good locations but are still unable to consistently hit the target.
Werner's percentage of shots which are on target stands at a commendable 50%, so we will adjust our filter to eliminate players who put less than 40% of their shots on target.
We are now down to the last 15 players and at this juncture, we apply the final filter - shot quality. A measure of each of these players' expected goals per shot will tell us what kind of shots they are likely to take-and whether those shots have a high chance of hitting the net.
Werner averages 0.19 xG per shot, or, to put it more simply, each shot he takes, on average, has a 19% chance of resulting in a goal. So, here, we will look to keep only those players who average 0.15 xG per shot or more, which gives us the following five players (excluding Werner, of course):
Now, we can look at each of these players in further detail and divide them into categories based on their suitability and likelihood of signing for Leipzig.
The Dream Signing
Based on the numbers, it seems that Dutch youngster Myron Boadu would be the ideal replacement for Werner. Still just 19 years of age, the AZ Alkmaar striker has already made 40 appearances for his club, registering 21 goals and 10 assists so far, including a total of 20 goal involvements in 24 games this season alone.
Boadu, who is Ghanaian-born, made his debut for the Dutch national team in 2019, scoring against Estonia in a 5-0 win. Already 6 feet tall and still growing, Boadu has all the potential to become a ridiculously prolific goalscorer, as his physical characteristics are supplemented by his wicked turn of pace.
AZ is reportedly willing to sell Boadu this summer, with a host of European clubs said to be interested, especially as the club has reportedly set his price tag at an extremely affordable €20 million.
With Leipzig almost sure to qualify for the Champions League next season and the chance to work with Nagelsmann on the cards, Boadu could well be tempted to join Leipzig by the time next season rolls around.
The Realistic Signings
Given the competition Leipzig would likely have to face if they wished to sign Boadu, the club could well be better served by turning its attention elsewhere. As a result, the following two players are perhaps more achievable targets to aim for.
The first of these two is Reims striker Boulaye Dia. The Frenchman has been in scintillating form this season in Ligue 1, with his seven goals thus far putting him top of the scoring charts for his club. Dia is strong, quick and physically extremely similar to Werner himself.
The two are the same height and almost the same weight, which, although not a deal-breaker, shows that Dia could potentially be able to replicate Werner's style of play well.
Dia often relies on quick changes of pace which enable him to find space in and around the 18-yard area, from where he can utilise his superb striking technique.
He has also shown a penchant for stepping up in big moments, with goals against PSG, Marseille and Angers already this season.
Number two is River Plate frontman Rafael Santos Borré. A goal poacher extraordinaire, Borré's main strength is being able to consistently work goalkeepers, as evidenced by his 57% shot accuracy.
A fairly underrated trait in many players, this means that Borré is often able to either put away chances himself or earn corners and force rebounds from which his teammates can profit as well.
With 12 goals in 20 appearances in Argentina's Superliga, several media outlets have linked him with moves to Atletico Madrid, Crystal Palace and Everton, among others. It is rumoured that River Plate would be willing to sell to the tune of £15 million this summer, so watch this space.
The Left-Field Shouts
Of course, if Leipzig so wished, they could go off the beaten track and try to sign a couple of players who look promising at the moment, but nothing more and try to develop them into proven talents, like these next two players.
One of the more obscure names amongst our initial list of 78 is Fortuna Sittard and Moldova striker Vitalie Damascan. Currently, on loan from Turin-based Serie A side Torino, Damascan has scored six goals so far this season for the relegation-threatened Dutch side.
Having just turned 21, there is still more than enough time for Damascan to develop as a footballer and a move to Leipzig could help him do just that.
The only potential drawback in Damascan's game may be that he is not blessed with the explosive pace of Werner, which could see him struggle slightly if he were to adapt to Nagelsmann's system.
However, when it comes to his positioning and natural finishing ability, Damascan is second to none. A move this year may be too early, but the situation could well be different next summer.
To round off this exciting selection of strikers is another loanee - part of the seemingly endless production line of talented Argentine forwards, none other than Maximiliano Romero.
Fans of European football may be familiar with the name, as Romero has appeared in the Champions League for PSV Eindhoven, the club he is still contracted to as he spent this season on loan back in Argentina, with Velez Sarsfield.
There is no particular facet of his game that Romero relies upon, as he is a supremely well-rounded striker; movement, pace, physicality, technique-he has it all, but things just haven't quite seemed to click for him so far.
If Leipzig was willing to take a chance on him, then who knows what could happen?Published 22 Mar 2020, 18:30 IST