Why Luis Diaz is like no other player Liverpool have

Luis Díaz has found himself – somewhat unwillingly – in the centre of a lot of discourse in the past few weeks.

It was the Colombian who perfectly timed his run and latched on to the end of Mohamed Salah’s through ball before putting it past Guglielmo Vicario in the Tottenham goal, only to see the flag go up.

What happened from there has been more than well documented and created one of the biggest media storms that the Premier League has seen in recent years, forcing the PGMOL to release the VAR audio for the decision (which, if anything, made them look a whole lot worse). 

Díaz has admitted that the situation took its toll on him and the team, saying in an interview: “At the time it hit me very hard, but not only for me, but for all my colleagues. In the middle of the game we talked a lot about it, it was a positive result that was going to help us. These are things that happen, referees are human. We have to take it easy and it will be next time.”

Yet amongst Liverpool fans the former Porto winger has also been the topic of discussion due to his performances – or lack thereof.

It has been a polarising topic of discussion with some believing that he is not pulling his weight and should not be seeing as much game time as he is (he is currently Liverpool’s second choice attacker in terms of minutes played behind Mohamed Salah). 

Some of this has been blown out of proportion. Díaz has been – as mentioned – the second-choice attacker behind Liverpool’s talismanic Egyptian so far this season. He has started all but one of the eight games the club has played. Díaz is currently averaging 0.4 goals per 90 minutes played in all competitions (or three goals in 679 minutes played). While that return could be better and is unfortunate not to be four goals in the same amount of game time, all three of those goals have been influential in the games they have come in. His first was the opener at Stamford Bridge in a game that ended 1-1. His second was the equaliser at home to Bournemouth – a game Liverpool went on to win 3-1. His latest was the goal to put Klopp’s side up 2-1 against LASK and go on to win the game 3-1. 

The goals against Chelsea and LASK were moments of intelligent movement and instinctive finishing. The movement for his goal in London was particularly impressive. He stays high and wide as Reece James ventures forward, and as soon as Salah receives the ball from Mac Allister, Díaz is on the move, running on the blindside of Axel Disasi and manages to extend himself to poke the ball past Robert Sánchez. His goal against Bournemouth was something else altogether, a piece of brilliant imagination, flicking the ball up and volleying it in at the still unfinished Anfield Road end. 

In front of goal Díaz is performing exactly as he’s expected to – scoring just slightly over his 2.9 expected goals. In terms of total shots taken the Colombian is Liverpool’s second option. He’s taken 19 this season, behind Salah’s 27 (although Núñez is one behind Díaz with 18 in considerably less game time – taking five shots per 90).  

Above is Díaz’s shot map for the current Premier League season (via Understat). As we can see he’s taking most of his shots from the left-hand side of the box – which makes sense, as he often positions himself high and wide and then either receives the ball before cutting inside or stays out of the build-up and then makes a penetrative run in behind the defence. One criticism of the Colombian is his shot selection, he isn’t always taking the highest quality of shots. His expected goals per shot this season is 0.15 (the shots he’s taking on average have a 15% chance of going in).

One thing that Díaz offers in abundance is influence in the final third. His 23.9 touches per 90 in the final third ranks only behind Núñez for players that have played more than five full games so far this season. 

Above is Díaz’s heatmap for the 2023/24 Premier League season (via SofaScore). He is like no other player Liverpool have in that position. Sure, Diogo Jota and Darwin Núñez can play there, but neither are natural left-wingers – they are central players who can operate out wide. What Díaz offers is natural positioning in the area. As mentioned for his goal at Stamford Bridge, he lingers out in wide areas, and receives a lot of passes and gets a lot of touches. These can often be in deeper areas than you’d expect a Salah or Darwin to be in (although Salah does drop deep from time to time). It helps Liverpool in build-up, offering them a constant passing option to a player in space, dragging opposition defenders out of central areas. From there he’s able to either get the ball inside to a Curtis Jones, use Andy Robertson (more on this slightly later) or move the ball inside to a Gakpo or Núñez. 

READ MORE: Chaos vs Compusre: Comparing Darwin Nuñez and Cody Gakpo for Liverpool

No player in the squad can dribble like the Colombian, nobody has the effectiveness combined with flair that gets you on the edge of your seat. His 3.2 progressive carries per 90 are behind only Alexander-Arnold (whose starting position is much deeper) and Jota. Nobody completes more successful take-ons per 90 than him (two) and only Alexis Mac Allister has a higher success rate in this department (with less volume) with 57% success from 3.5 attempts. This is a huge reason why he is essentially the second-choice attacker behind Salah, there is nobody in the squad like him when it comes to moving the ball closer to the goal through dribbling. 

One area for improvement in possession would be Díaz’s creativity – with him yet to register an assist so far this season. Of course, that can happen, and assists are a skewed statistic a lot of the time, it’s dependent on someone else scoring. Yet Liverpool’s #7’s underlying numbers are not exactly glowing either, there is no evidence we will see an increase in his direct output. While he ranks third in the team – behind Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexander-Arnold – for Shot Creating Actions (4.64 per 90), he is only putting up 0.09 expected assists per 90 and 1.09 key passes per 90. Díaz is getting himself into good areas, he is able to beat his man and he often finds space, but his final ball is lacking on a consistent basis. 

Off the ball Díaz is everything Klopp wants from one of his forwards. Here is it in full display, albeit with his national team during World Cup qualifying against Uruguay, on Thursday evening.

Díaz is not only a tenacious presser but also a smart one. Working under Sérgio Conceição in Portugal helped a lot in this aspect, as they defended in a solid 4-4-2 unit, and while Díaz was given some freedom to press as he saw fit, it was a very disciplined setup, with each player given a set role. Liverpool’s defensive setup is extremely different (and if you ask my dad, non-existent at times), yet he still thrives in his environment.

He averages 1.73 tackles and interceptions per 90, which is the most of Liverpool’s 'starting attackers'. Beyond the stats he is constantly tracking his man back. What he offers Liverpool’s system in this aspect is invaluable. It’s something Klopp puts an extreme amount of value on. Núñez was left out the team a lot last year because he didn’t know how to press in the right way. It may not be something that will be noticed regularly but it makes a huge difference over the course of a season.

READ MORE: Amazing Darwin Nuñez penalty stat as Uruguayan steals show in clash with Liverpool teammate

There are definite areas for improvement, Díaz needs to be more creative, and if he’s not going to do that, then his goal output needs to increase. His relationship with the man that’s often behind him – Andy Robertson – can also be improved. With Robertson and Sadio Mané you felt that the two understood how to operate, when one comes inside the other overlaps, they combined with ease. With Díaz and the Scotsman it feels less natural. This may be unfair, Díaz was injured for most of last season and Robertson’s role is different than his one with Mané, they haven’t had time to develop a relationship – but Liverpool’s ceiling would be substantially improved if they did.

Despite this, he’s far and away the club’s best left winger. The criticism he has come under in recent weeks is unfair. If the goal at Tottenham counts and Liverpool get a result then he is looked at entirely differently – such is the business of football.

Díaz is everything you want in a footballer. He gets you off your feet whilst being effective and a full season of him will be key to any success Liverpool have.

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