Longevity is something that’s being discussed more often than ever before in the world of football.
The ridiculous amount of football that players are being asked to participate in seems ever increasing, and the risk of burnout is higher than ever. There’s then the other side of things, more specifically the development in sports science and tracking data means teams can manage players fitness better than ever before.
One case that leans towards the theory that we’ll see players playing later into their thirties and potentially even forties is Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian turns 32 in June of this year – and he looks fresher/quicker/sharper/insert-adjective-here than ever before. He takes his body increasingly seriously and is helped by the fact he wasn’t overplayed in his youth.
Yet there is still succession planning going on at Anfield. They know that their talismanic winger isn’t going to be around forever, and the threat of Saudi Arabia will be around again come the summer window, even if the allure of the riches of the league have look less glamorous since their summer splurge.
Liverpool (injuries permitting) have options in every single position. Apart from on the right wing. There, if it isn’t Salah, it’s someone playing out of position. There is the supremely talented Ben Doak, but he is 18 and extremely raw. There is probably a need for someone else.
That takes us to Selhurst Park.
Crystal Palace’s Michael Olise has been linked to Merseyside this January by several sources, with Liverpool reportedly exploring what it would take to sign him. The France Under-21 international was apparently close to being added to the queue of new recruits at Chelsea, before signing a new deal at the Croydon club.
While he’s had to deal with a nasty hamstring injury that kept him out for 13 games, he’s having his most productive goalscoring season in terms of goals per 90 – scoring five goals in nine games. He has been the standout in a struggling Palace side (who sit 14th at the time of writing) and things under former Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson have been turbulent at best.
That has earned him even more hype than there was before, and a move to a side that wants to compete for titles looks set to happen this summer. So, why are Liverpool looking at the London-born winger, and how would he fit in at Liverpool?
First, it’s important to establish the system he operates in. Palace have used a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 variation for most of this season.
They don’t tend to be overly bothered with dominating possession (although they have against opponents you’d deem weaker than them) and are more focused on defensive solidity and turning the ball over to create transitional moments.
Within that, Olise has exclusively played as the right winger. That is where he’s at his best – but he is versatile.
Throughout his career he has played 65 games at right wing, 52 as an attacking midfielder, 17 games as a central midfielder and eight games on the left wing.
His strengths mean he is comfortable dropping and starting deeper than other wingers. His versatility would also be beneficial to those at Anfield. We know Jürgen Klopp values players who can fulfil different roles. We also know that if Olise and Salah were to co-exist that the latter is rarely injured and plays next to every minute, Olise being able to cover other positions means he’d still be getting minutes, developing, and adjusting to Klopp-ball, even if not in his best position.
You can’t look at Michael Olise and not start with what he does with the ball at his feet.
For most of his career, he has been a chance creation machine. Last season he finished with 11 assists from 8.7 expected assists (which ranked him eighth in the league).
Using FBRef’s Scouting Report tool we can see that in the last 365 days (which is 2,340 minutes played for Olise, a large sample size where we’re able to draw solid conclusions) that he ranks in the 92nd percentile for expected assists (0.35 per 90) and 90th percentile for shot-creating actions (creating an impressive 5.19 shots per 90 for his teammates).
What’s even more impressive than the numbers are the variation in his creation.
He is Palace’s go-to set-piece taker, which of course inflates his numbers – but this is something that should be appreciated, rather than an asterisk on his creative numbers. When it comes to set-pieces he is comfortable taking corners and free-kicks from both sides, and his delivery is a joy to watch. He’s at his best (set-piece wise) from the right-hand side, using his left foot to swing the ball in dangerously towards the back post, leaving a crashing attacker having to just touch the ball in.
Outside the set-pieces he’s just as good. Every good attacker needs a signature move – and Olise has his. It comes in the form of taking his defender on down the outside, chopping back, and using the space he generates to use that in-swinging whipped ball towards the back post. It’s one of those moves that the defender knows he’s going to do but can’t stop it (much like a more cross first than shoot first Arjen Robben).
This season, he seems to have swapped the assists for goals. As mentioned, he currently has five goals in nine games. His expected goals per 90 for this season is sitting at 0.4 per 90 – which obliterates his previous best (0.15 in the 2020/21 Championship season for Reading).
So, whether this is a purple patch or a coming-of-age season remains to be seen, but the signs are promising.
The above is his shot-map for this season, via Understat.com. He’s taking shots from better situations and less pot-shot’s from outside the box.
Signing for Liverpool would put him in higher quality situations on a more regular basis, which points to him being able to scale up.
Out of possession
Off the ball, Olise is perfect for a Klopp side.
I’ve seen him get a reputation from some quarters for having a poor attitude, but that couldn’t be further from the truth in his efforts on the pitch. He’s a high-energy defender who has an appetite for pressing defenders – with a good success rate.
Last season, he averaged a tackle won in the middle and final third 0.98 times per 90 – nearly once a game. He tracks his full-back well and is physically prepared to engage in defensive duels. He’s been helped by being coached by Hodgson – a defence-first manager, who has developed this side of his game.
If we look at his FBRef Scouting Report again, the defensive numbers are incredibly impressive. He ranks in the 83rd percentile for tackles (1.81 per 90), 95th percentile for interceptions (1 per 90) and 88th percentile for blocks (1.42 per 90). Defensive data never tells the full picture, as Olise’s volume of defending (how much he’s doing) will be more than that of a team that is more ball dominant.
Yet what it does show is that the application and talent is there.
Tailor-made for Liverpool
There are no clear weaknesses in Olise’s game.
The biggest criticism you could have of the winger is that he can lose the ball a lot, but that often happens when you’re the main creative force on a team and are asked to have a lot more risk in your game (I recall a time when the amount of misplaced passes was a stick used to beat Trent Alexander-Arnold with).
If you couldn’t tell already, I’m all in on Michael Olise. At 21 he’s already displaying elite creativity whilst also showing development of his goalscoring game. He might not be a like-for-like replacement for Salah – but nobody is going to be. The Egyptian is a once in a lifetime player.
What Olise would offer is an excellent creative partner for Darwin Núñez to play off. In theory, the balance between the two would work – the Uruguayan’s chaotic-ness offset by the calm and cool that Olise exudes.
He seems tailor-made for Klopp and this Liverpool squad too. He does the defensive work required, the stuff that makes this team work so well.
His versatility means you can play him with Salah, and not hinder the development of Doak at the same time. If Olise is available this summer, Liverpool should be first in line. If they aren’t, someone else will be.