How do you replace a footballer like Mohamed Salah?

Since the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia decided that football, and more specifically its own Saudi Pro League would be a focus of their funding – with over £400m worth of talent brought in so far – there has been one name constantly talked about: Mohamed Salah.

As arguably the most famous Arab person in the world, with over 61 million Instagram followers, features in magazines like GQ, and even being named as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people on earth in 2019, luring him to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia makes logical sense for the league.

On Sunday, those rumours went up a level. Al-Ittihad, the side that recently acquired Fabinho’s services, reportedly offered the Egyptian a £155m wage package, and were willing to pay Liverpool £60m for his services. Any chance of a move this summer was quickly denied by Salah’s agent, Ramy Abbas on twitter.

What’s certain, though, is that Saudi Arabian clubs will come again for Liverpool’s record Premier League goalscorer. If not this summer, then next when the Egyptian will have just 12 months left on his Liverpool contract.

READ MORE: Should Liverpool be preparing for Mohamed Salah's farewell?

The interest leaves the club in a predicament. Ben Doak has impressed in limited minutes but is just 18 years old and 2024 is likely to be too soon to become a starter for a team with Liverpool’s aspirations. The most probable outcome (if Salah were to leave) is that someone would be brought in to replace him. It will be near enough impossible to replace Salah’s out-put at the club, with 195 goals and assists in 208 Premier League appearances.

There are, though, options out there. 

Her are two potential targets who would all fit in with Liverpool’s typical profile when it comes to transfers (within the 20–25-year-old age range).

Bradley Barcola, Olympique Lyonnais (20)

© Proshots - Bradley Barcola

The first name on the list is young French winger Bradley Barcola. Born in the Villeurbanne area of the city, he has been with Lyon since the age of eight. His debut season came in 2021/22, in which he made a handful of substitute appearances. Barcola’s breakthrough campaign came last season, in which he started 20 games. It was an incredible first full campaign, with 16 direct goal contributions (seven goals and nine assists) in 1,788 minutes of game time.

One of Barcola’s biggest strengths is his versatility. In his young career so far, he’s pretty much evenly spread appearances across left-wing, centre forward and right-wing. Although predominantly right footed, he is extremely comfortable in using his left. This would offer Liverpool something different to Salah, rather than an out to in winger and someone who is extremely one footed, Barcola would offer a threat coming inside and going down the outside.

What stands out when watching the young Frenchman is his size, and how he uses it. Standing at 6ft 1in, he’s much taller than your usual winger. He’s very slender in build but uses his long legs to knock the ball past defenders and stride past them with ease. Barcola loves to take players on one-on-one, isolating them before beating them with his pace, represented in his 2.46 successful take-ons per 90 (ranking him in the 86th percentile of attacking midfielders and wingers in Europe’s top five leagues). 

In an attacking sense, Barcola is much more creator than goal getter as of right now. He has found a connection with former Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette, becoming the ‘King of the Cutback’, driving into opposition boxes before laying it back to his compatriot. His 0.24 expected assisted goals per 90 ranks him in the 71st percentile, while his 0.51 assists per 90 rank him in the 99th percentile, showing he has promising underlying numbers but has been helped with some excellent finishing. In front of goal, he isn’t particularly shot heavy, with 1.64 per 90. When he does shoot, they tend to be higher quality chances than others in his position at 0.13 non-penalty expected goals per shot. 

Liverpool’s wingers are expected to defend from the front, and in that sense, Barcola fits in perfectly. He ranks in the 67th percentile for tackles (1.58), 97th percentile for interceptions (1.2), 99th percentile for blocks (1.77), 70th percentile for clearances and 88th percentile for aerial duels won (1.01, all per 90). He has a willingness to get back and defend that you don’t see from most widemen, and he would fit perfectly in a Klopp side. His pressing game is uniquely effective too, with his long limbs able to block passing lanes that others wouldn’t be able to.

Where he needs to develop is his decision making – as is the case with most young attackers. He can often hang on to the ball for too long or rush the play and pick the wrong pass. There would also be concerns on his goalscoring ability given he is coming in for Liverpool’s primary outlet in that sense (although the dynamic may shift if Salah departs). With PSG apparently pushing for his signature this summer, he may not be available, but if he is next summer then he is a name to keep an eye on – not least as Liverpool have reportedly scouted him extensively already.

Nico Williams, Athletic Club (21)

© Proshots - Nico Williams

*Queue joke about the former Liverpool player of the same name*.

This Nico Williams hails from the Basque country rather than north Wales and is the younger brother of teammate Iñaki Williams (despite Nico playing for Spain and Iñaki for Ghana). Having only recently turned 21, Williams has already played over 80 games for his club and represented Spain at a major tournament.  

Williams would be a major shift in dynamic if he were to replace Salah at Liverpool. The Spanish international is not known for his goals, having only scored 12 goals in 85 appearances for his club (0.22 goals per 90). He, like Barcola, isn’t a particularly shot heavy wide player, ranking in the 43rd percentile for attacking midfielders and wingers for shots taken in Europe’s top five leagues (2.07 per 90). He has shown improvement in front of goal, going from zero goals from 2.6 expected goals in 2021-22 to six goals from 4.9 expected goals in 2022-23, but is far from being consistent at putting the ball in the net.

Where the Pamplona born forward does thrive, is in one against ones and progressing the ball up the pitch through his dribbling. He ranks in the 95th percentile for progressive carries per 90 (5.9) and the 92nd percentile for successful take ons per 90 (2.81). He does this through his frightening pace and the ability to use both feet. This makes him a dual threat; he is comfortable taking his man on down the outside and cutting inside. He likes to hold width before receiving the ball and is excellent at generating separation from his man to receive the ball – ranking in the 89th percentile for progressive passes received (10.88 per 90). He doesn’t just rely on his pace to beat his man though; with excellent technical ability he is able to draw his marker in before using a variety of touches and a burst of pace to beat them.

His chance creation comes mainly from his ability to penetrate the box, with 2.17 carries into the penalty area per 90. From there he can pull the ball back or play it across the face of goal. He hasn’t put up particularly strong numbers in his creation, ranking just below Barcola with 0.22 expected assisted goals per 90. Yet there is clearly the raw ability there when watching him that with coaching and time, those numbers will explode. Williams has all the raw tools to be a high-level attacker.

He is also a decent defensive winger, although the team style in which he plays does help this. There is a willingness in Williams to get back and defend (although he is not as skilled at it as Barcola). He ranks low in both tackles and interceptions (1.05 and 0.27 per 90 respectively) but shows a desire to get back and put in work with his 1.36 blocks per 90 (ranking him in the 81st percentile) and 0.47 clearances per 90 (ranking him in the 58th percentile). Again, like Barcola, this is something Klopp likes from his wingers, and having someone there that is comfortable getting back and tracking their men would allow Alexander-Arnold more freedom in getting forward.

The main concern with Williams is the goalscoring and the fact that his attacking game is still particularly raw. Yet with clubs like Aston Villa heavily linked in the past, and with another season at a good club in a top five league to come, there is scope for that to grow. Another season at Athletic Club could see the growth that means he’s ready for Liverpool in 2024.

Both options are considerably different in style to Salah, but that’s likely the direction the club will have to take when the Egyptian departs.

Others will take more responsibility in scoring the goals, and we’ve already seen a shift in the latter half of 2022/23 and this pre-season in Salah becoming more of a creative outlet.

With Ben Doak – a right footed winger – also waiting in the wings, it makes sense for the club to target a versatile wide forward in the coming windows as the succession planning begins.

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