“Guys, you're still trying to replace Giambi. I told you we can't do it, and we can't do it. Now, what we might be able to do is re-create him. Re-create him in the aggregate.”
A lot of you will have seen Moneyball but for those who haven’t, The Oakland A’s have lost three of their star players and the scouts are trying to find replacements with similar outputs. Billy Beane, the general manager of the baseball team, shuts them all down with the above.
I won’t spoil it, you should watch it if you haven’t, but the general idea was to use specific data points to find undervalued players to give them the best chance of success. It was a model adopted by FSG and was a key part of Liverpool’s success under Jurgen Klopp.
The Reds have often ignored the flavour of the month and instead opted for smart recruitment. Mohamed Salah was a Chelsea flop but Dr Ian Graham, the former Director of Research at Anfield, used the many models he has access to and determined the Roma winger would be an ideal fit for the Liverpool attack alongside Roberto Firmino.
So, in the same summer Neymar moved to Paris Saint-Germain for £222m, Ousmane Dembele made the switch to Camp Nou for £105m, Alvaro Morata moved to Chelsea for north of £52m and Alexandre Lacazette joined Arsenal for a reported £46m, the Reds brought Salah back to the Premier League for an initial £37m fee.
There are countless other examples of Liverpool opting for smart money instead of big money.
They are going to have to do the same when the time comes to replace Salah.
Though the 31-year-old has just under two years left on his current deal on Merseyside, the general consensus now seems to be that this is going to be his final season with the 2019/20 Premier League champions. Al-Ittihad tried and failed to lure him to the Saudi Pro League this summer, they might have more success in a little under 12 months times when the Liverpool number 11 is into the final year of his existing deal.
If this is the case, the Reds will be doing the groundwork now to ensure they are ready for his departure. Don’t be surprised to see links to right-sided attackers over the next couple of months.
Life after Salah
But how exactly do you replace Salah? Is it even possible?
He has 139 goals and 60 assists in 222 Premier League appearances. Not only is he one of the biggest goal threats in the English top flight but he’s also one of the best creators too. He’s a dual threat and few in the world can confidently boast about this.
His injury record is almost flawless for Liverpool too.
If we delve a little deeper, his numbers are just as impressive. Per FBref, Salah has a Non-Penalty Expected Goals per 90 average of 0.53 across six full seasons and four games of the 2023/24 campaign. He also had an Expected Assist per 90 average of 0.24 over the same time period. So, in total, the Egyptian has a Non-Penalty Expected Goal Contribution average of 0.77 for the Merseysiders.
Replacing that isn’t going to be easy or straightforward. Among the names being spoken about on social media are Moussa Diaby and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
During his four seasons with Bayer Leverkusen, Diaby had a Non-Penalty Expected Goals per 90 average of 0.25 and an Expected Assists per 90 average of 0.37.
The 24-year-old moved to Aston Villa for a club-record fee, believed to be close to £52m. He’s started life well in the Premier League and if he carries it on for the remainder of the campaign, it is difficult to see the Villans parting with him for sub £100m.
Kvaratskhelia, a right-footed left-winger, has just one full campaign in a top five European league. He finished his debut campaign with Napoli with a Non-Penalty Expected Goals per 90 average of 0.24 and an Expected Assists per 90 average of 0.28. Reports over the summer claimed the Serie A champions wanted over £80m for the 22-year-old.
So neither player can match Salah’s output and yet their selling clubs will likely want Salah-esque figures for them. Now, they could scale numbers like the Egypt international did when he moved from Roma to Liverpool. It is possible, but there are no guarantees and Liverpool would already be paying a premium and this just adds to the risk.
There’s nothing undervalued about them.
Recreating him in the aggregate
The solution could be to spread Salah’s numbers across multiple players.
Though we’re only four matches into the current campaign – and in two of those the Reds have been down to ten men for large periods, so numbers are a little skewed – his averages are interesting.
For example, his Non-Penalty xG per 90 average has dropped to 0.39 while his Expected Assists average has risen to 0.34. So he still has a Non-Penalty xG Contribution of over 0.7 per 90 but it is split a little differently now. Whereas previously, 69% was made up of xG, now it accounts for just 53%.
So what does this mean? Well, when looking for a replacement, you could target players who aren’t necessarily elite goalscorers yet and are a little more creative.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) September 6, 2023
In this scenario, the goalscoring burden would fall onto Darwin Nuñez as the primary goal threat, or Diogo Jota if he was leading the line.
But why does this make it easier?
Instead of having to find a ready-made goalscoring winger who would come at a huge cost, the Reds could potentially find someone who fit the requirements for around the £40m mark. They can afford to take a gamble, not with the cost, but with the player’s potential as they wouldn’t be coming in as the main man.
Liverpool could pivot their attack so that the centre-forward is the main man and the two wide players are support acts who chip in with fewer goals.
Recreating him in the aggregate is much easier than looking for someone to step straight into his shoes.