How effective can Wataru Endo be for Liverpool?

It’s been almost a week since the news broke that Liverpool had rebounded from the rejections of Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia by entering advanced negotiations with Stuttgart for Wataru Endo.

The move – in similar fashion to Dominik Szoboszlai – happened before fans could even get their heads round it.

While he may be unfamiliar to most non-Bundesliga and Japanese football watchers, the signing of Endo – reportedly driven by temporary sporting director Jorg Schmadtke – has received praise in certain circles for its shrewdness. There have been phrases such as “the sort of business Liverpool used to do” thrown out. The truth is this is slightly uncharacteristic from the club. Signing a 30-year-old midfielder on a four-year contract isn’t something the club have done often, especially when they aren’t necessarily seen as an elite level talent like Thiago was.

But that doesn’t mean Endo can’t be a successful signing, I’ve taken a look at the Japan captain and analysed what he can bring to Anfield.

Off the Ball

To start, let’s look at where Liverpool are most lacking in the midfield department, the out of possession stuff. Below is his heatmap for the 2022-23 Bundesliga season:

Wataru Endo heatmap, 2022/23 Bundesliga season

As we can see from the above, the Yokohama-born midfielder covers a significant amount of space. Even though he’s played most of his games throughout his 13-year career as a centre back, Endo himself sees himself “… as a No.6 and I'm like a bit more [of a] defensive player. I think I can help this club defensively and I will have good organisation in the middle. I think that's my job.”

For Stuttgart last season, that’s exactly what he was. He played at the left-hand-side of a double pivot, alongside Atakan Karazor in a 3-4-1-2, or at the base of a midfield three in a 4-3-3.
His defensive numbers – with the asterisk that he is playing for a team that escaped relegation from the Bundesliga via a playoff – are extremely solid. He isn’t the most high-volume tackler, competing in 2.18 per 90 and winning 52% of those. Endo’s best defensive asset is his positioning. While he isn’t the most proactive in terms of his reading of the game – averaging less than an interception per 90 (0.81) – he is intelligent in where he places himself on the pitch. While there is no data on this, when watching Endo, he so often picks up loose balls in between the defensive and midfield lines. His intelligent positioning is also displayed in the number of passes he blocks per 90 – ranking in the 86th percentile for midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues with 1.28 per 90.

He also positions himself well when being challenged one-vs-one against dribblers running at him. He faces them up and engages well with him. He challenges 2.75 of them per 90 (84th percentile) and wins 1.25 of those (again ranking him in the 84th percentile). This is a valuable asset to a Liverpool side whose defensive midfielder will likely face most of their work in transition and defend against counterattacks.

One of Endo’s more “hidden” talents – as noted by @GraceOnFootball on Twitter as one of the hallmarks of a great defensive midfielder – is the ability to avoid bookings despite being involved in lots of duels. Endo was booked just three times last season, even though he played in all but 180 minutes of Stuttgart’s league minutes.

There is the concern that although Endo has played at the left-hand side of a double pivot, he was alongside the more defensive-focused Atakan Karazor, who, for reference, ranked in the 61st percentile for tackles, 77th percentile for interceptions, 92nd percentile for blocks and 94th percentile for clearances (all per 90) compared to midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues. How he will deal with being the more active defender in a two alongside the attacking focused Trent Alexander-Arnold will be something to watch.

He is, though, an aerial monster. He wins 2.25 aerial duels per 90 – ranking him in the 94th percentile, and we already saw evidence of his prowess in the air in Saturday’s 3-1 win against Bournemouth, making crucial headers in his own box to relieve any pressure of a late Cherries comeback.

There are also intangible factors to bringing in a player like Endo, he is the current captain of Japan and departed Stuttgart as their captain, too. He is someone who apparently leads by example, and with senior figures within Liverpool’s dressing room this summer, bringing in characters like this can be the marginal gains a side needs.

On the Ball

While most of the focus will be on how solid he can make Liverpool out of possession, Endo also needs to be an effective on ball footballer to have a positive impact at Anfield.

Let’s start with his passing game. Liverpool’s new number three is not a particularly high-volume passer of the football – attempting just 44.93 per 90 (for reference, Fabinho attempted 61.7 per 90 last season). He’s also not a particularly secure passer, completing just 80.1% of those passes – which ranks him in just the 36th percentile. This is an area of concern as keeping the play ticking over will be part of his new job description, playing short, simple passes at a regular rate to the more dangerous attacking players in the midfield.

This concern is again displayed in this visual by @pranav_m28 on Twitter:

As we can see from the above, Endo’s actions after recovering the ball have a 65.44% success rate. This ranks him low amongst Bundesliga midfielders. Part of Liverpool’s success is having a midfielder who can A) win the ball back and B) recycle it effectively. It’s something that Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum did so well in the title winning sides of a few years ago. It’s something that Endo will be expected to do to a high level, but he is not being brought in to be extremely progressive or make penetrative runs into the final third. He is being brought in to make Klopp’s side defensively sound and to get the ball to his more talented midfield counterparts.

While he won’t be burdened too much with attacking responsibility, Endo puts up strong numbers in that department. In his four seasons in Southwest Germany, he contributed to 13 goals and 10 assists.

You’ll have probably seen by now his incredible last minute diving header to save Stuttgart from relegation in 2021/22:

He can also smack a ball from range

Popping up with key goals is something Fabinho did effectively in the 2021/22 season. Endo’s aerial ability will be another useful piece in Liverpool’s set piece routines. If he’s able to contribute to a few goals a season that could make all the difference to Liverpool’s success.

Looking ahead

Endo made a positive cameo against Bournemouth at the weekend, and ensured Liverpool didn’t panic too much with a numerical disadvantage. There were moments in the game that he did look on the slower side, and this will be a concern given that he’s 30. He is, however, coming from the all-out action Bundesliga, which should translate well to Premier League football.

While the four-year contract remains questionable, and I will have major concerns if he is the final piece of business this summer, I do think this is an extremely nice pickup from the club.

He’s a solid player, someone who should – in theory – be able to do the things that Klopp wants him to do. He will need to adapt to the wandering nature of Alexander-Arnold alongside him, and improvement on the ball would be welcome.

But for a small fee (in today’s game), having a national team captain who can play several different roles (including central defence) and will be happy with minutes from the bench, Endo could well end up becoming a fan favourite.

Share This Article