There are many ways to rate players, none of which are definitively correct or without flaws. Some people will form an opinion based on a video compilation of highlights; others will prefer to look at statistics that can illustrate strengths and weaknesses.
If you trust the latter, chances are you’ll regularly see data visualizations on social media that show how a host of footballers compare to each other. A favorite graph is the scatter plot, which plots two statistics against each other.
Some players excel in the first metric, others are naturally stronger in the second. But if it’s important stats, find someone who can do both. Luckily for Liverpool, they have two men in their squad for 2022/23 who showed their ability in two key areas last season.
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It wasn’t an accident, of course. It is well established that the club has one of the main analytical setups in the game, with astrophysicists and chess champions using their skills to exploit market inefficiency whenever possible. Their advanced work will have helped Liverpool maintain their record of transfer success which dates back half a decade or more.
But relatively basic statistics can also paint a very compelling picture. Twitter account “Crab Stats” recently shared a graph showing how players aged under 25 in Europe’s big five leagues, plus Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands, achieved expected assists (xA ) and expected goals without penalty (npxG).
There were only five men above the 0.4-for-90 line for the first stat, and Trent Alexander-Arnold was one of them. Ousmane Dembele, Cody Gakpo and David Raum, a trio all linked to Liverpool in recent months, were also part of this elite creative quintet.
Many more players broke the 0.4 barrier on the expected goals axis, with former Red Taiwo Awoniyi and reported target Martin Terrier among them. In this area, 0.6 separates the top performers from the rest of the pack.
No one on the chart has reached those highs while providing more than 0.4 expected assists per 90 minutes. However, if we look for attackers who had at least 0.6 npxG and were good for more than 0.2 xA for 90, we find a quartet of very familiar names: Luis Diaz, Darwin Nunez, Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe.
What makes the results even more interesting from a Liverpool perspective is that their duo each led a category when it came to those four players, with their Colombian striker leading in expected assists while his new Uruguayan team-mate was the best for the expected goals. That’s not to say that Diaz and Nunez are the better pair by any means. There is much more to consider than just two underlying statistics, no matter how important they are in predicting future performance.
But the results underscore that the club got two players of broadly similar quality to Haaland and Mbappe for a much lower total cost. The challenge for Jurgen Klopp will be to get such levels of performance from his numbers 23 and 27 when they play for the same team. They were Portugal’s two best players in 2021/22 for goals per 90 minutes, but it was easier when they were each a key man on either side of the Benfica-Porto rivalry.
There is evidence that the Liverpool manager can keep more than one player at elite level. According to data from Statsbomb, seven players recorded at least 0.5 npxG and 0.2 xA per 90 minutes in the big leagues last season, and the Reds were the only club to have two.
As Mohamed Salah was one (with Diogo Jota the other) and will be at Liverpool next season, the chances of two more players reaching such heights for the club are slim. What matters for now is that Diaz and Nunez have shown they can be just as productive and have played at very similar levels to the two top-rated young forwards in the game.