Is Jarell Quansah a better option than Kostas Tsimikas against Everton?

It was a mixed week for Andy Robertson.

He started, as he nearly always does, for Scotland on Thursday evening, who needed to avoid defeat in the heat of Seville to qualify for back-to-back Euros.

As the game approached half-time things were going well for the Tartan Army, who had nullified most of Spain’s threat. However, in the 44th minute Steve Clarke’s side had one of their few first-half opportunities to get numbers forward, with a set piece inside the Spanish half. The result wasn’t a goal but an accidental yet nasty fall from Unai Simon (the Spanish goalkeeper) on top of Robertson, who ultimately was forced off with a dislocated shoulder.

Scotland went on to lose the game 2-0, after some more VAR controversy. It didn’t matter much, and Robertson ended his international break by captaining his country to another international tournament after Spain beat Norway on Sunday.

Someone that won’t be coming out of the international break with an overwhelming sense of happiness, though, is Jürgen Klopp. For all the discussion about Robertson’s performances this season, he has played in every single minute of the club’s Premier League campaign. He is one of the first names on the team sheet and his absence is a headache for the Liverpool manager.

READ MORE: Three ways Liverpool could line up in defence without Andy Robertson

The obvious answer would be Kostas Tsimikas coming into the fold, as he has done in both Europa League games and the Carabao Cup win against Leicester. The former Greek Super League winner is, of course, a natural left back. He’s averaged an assist every three games for the reds since his arrival in 2020 (0.33 assists per ninety), which as backups go is decent – not to mention scoring the winning penalty in the FA Cup final in 2022.

Yet the tactical nuances and responsibilities of what a Liverpool left back is asked to do has changed in the last six months.

Robertson and Tsimikas are different yet similar players in terms of their profile. Both are all-action, high energy full backs who like to overlap in attack and thrive off their excellent crossing ability. That, for a long time, was exactly what Klopp wanted from them, but that’s no longer the case. Liverpool’s left back is now asked to become what is essentially an outside left centre back in possession, someone who is not asked to venture too far past the halfway line when they have the ball and to be positionally disciplined.

Robertson and Tsimikas have both struggled at times this season already with the 'memo' for their new role. Leaving Robertson aside (as he likely won’t be fit for Saturday’s game), Tsimikas has got away with not really being suited to the role so far this season as he has played against sides Liverpool are far superior to – LASK, Leicester and Union S-G.

Above is the Greek international’s heat map from the two Europa League games this season (via SofaScore). It’s very much what you’d expect from a modern full back in a ball dominant side. Compare this to Roberson’s heat map in the league (again via SofaScore) below.

Caveated with the fact that the Scotsman has more game time, there is much more activity in the defensive third.

Everton are not one of the better teams in the league, in fact they are far from it, yet we know that they raise their levels on a twice a year basis when they face the team across Stanley Park. It’s easy to predict how Sean Dyche’s side will play. They will sit with ten (and even sometimes 11) men behind the ball. They will be physical, and they will be direct. 

These are things that Tsimikas doesn’t particularly excels against. 

Step forward, Jarell Quansah.

Okay, it’s hardly an introduction. The Warrington-born defender has already grabbed the attention of fans this season. He made his debut by coming off the bench at that win at St. James Park, he then followed this up with starts against Wolves, Leicester, and Union S-G. He even got his first assist for the club.

Quansah is the ideal candidate to start in the left back role at Anfield on Saturday.

It’s unorthodox, and in a game of this magnitude and importance (after the club dropped five points in the two games before the international break) it presents a huge risk. Yet the recent England Under 21 call-up offers huge upside to the team in both his on the ball and out of possession play.

Let’s start with the main reason I’d start Quansah – his out of possession game.

Everton will use their striker – whether that be Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Beto, or both – to win long balls, particularly aerially. Calvert-Lewin ranks in the 91st percentile for forwards (in Europe’s top five leagues) for aerials won – 5.26 per 90 – and Beto ranks in the 71st – 2.62 per 90. Liverpool’s central defenders will have their hands full.

Liverpool’s centre backs are good in the air, especially Virgil van Dijk, but there is always the tactic that can be pulled where opposition managers will sit their aerially dominant attackers on to a full back. Tsimikas is weak in the air, he has won 48.7% of aerial duels across his career – just 0.7 per 90. 

There isn’t much data behind Quansah’s aerial ability, he has won four and lost six so far this season. There is long-term potential in him being aerially dominant, though. At 6ft 5in tall, he is visibly taller than those around him. While he hasn’t filled out his frame in full just yet, he is by no means weak. He is strong in duels and has won 75% of them against dribblers he has come up against. He reads the game extremely well and is confident in his own abilities for a 20-year-old. 

There are some concerns with his defensive game, especially in a game like this one. The first is that starting him on the left-hand side isn’t something that he has done an awful lot. Quansah has been for the most part a right-sided centre back in a back four (and an outside right-handed centre back in a back three).

He is adept at defending wide areas but doing this on the right side a right footer is different to the angles he’d be defending on the left-hand side, leading with his weaker foot. He did play as a left sided centre back at Wolves and looked comfortable, so there is some prior for him being comfortable switching sides. He has also historically (funny using that word in a piece about a player so young) struggled with quick movements in behind him and turning to recover, although the evidence of this season and profile of player have indicates this likely wouldn’t be an issue.

On the ball Quansah has been excellent so far in his senior career – which would be no surprise to those that watched him in youth football. In his 296 minutes of football, he has completed 203 successful passes from 222 attempts – a 91.4% success rate, which is only bettered by Curtis Jones’ 93.3% (210 completed from 225 attempts).

While sometimes a high pass completion percentage indicates a lack of risk or purpose with the pass types, this isn’t the case here. Quansah is completing 3.91 progressive passes per ninety (bettered only by Joe Gomez and Joël Matip in Liverpool’s centre back ranks), he’s also completing 4.25 long passes (passes over 30 yards) from 6.96 attempts per 90 – a 62.5% success rate. This is a tool that is often used by Liverpool’s defenders to stretch defences or bypass any press.

Against Everton you wouldn’t expect them to put pressure on the defenders, but they will be narrow, and these passes mean Liverpool can switch the ball in an instant to a Salah or Díaz and pull Everton’s block out of position.

READ MORE: How Liverpool should line up in midfield to combat physical Everton challenge

Quansah is also very comfortable in bringing the ball into midfield areas through his carrying, described as a 'Rolls Royce of a defender' due to his swaggering style.

Against Dyche’s side he’ll be afforded the space to do this, whilst bringing defensive solidity and purposeful passing. There are of course risks with bringing a young player into a game as feisty as this one – the fixture with the most red cards in Premier League history.

Quansah is not a left-sided defender by trade, he is also inexperienced, and Everton will use every trick in the book to get even a point at Anfield (something they find very hard to come by). Yet I believe he would give the side more balance that Tsimikas may, allowing Trent Alexander-Arnold and the midfield more licence to push their starting position up and use quick combinations to break down the Everton block.

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