The Missing Puzzle in Liverpool’s Midfield
While there is no pressing need for Liverpool to replace Fabinho – after Wataru Endo has made a positive account of himself in the last few months – in the long-term the Reds will want to bring in a specialist number six of a slightly younger profile.
It’s what seems to be the missing puzzle in Jurgen Klopp’s 2.0 midfield jigsaw after the major surgery the Liverpool boss did to his squad last summer.
And while there are not many candidates out there at the moment who are available in the current market, there could be one who might just fit the bill for Liverpool.
Identifying the Ideal Holding Midfielder
As discussed with Dave Davis on the latest Media Matters Stat me Up Transfer Special, there is a certain criteria that Liverpool will look for when pursuing a holding midfielder.
The profile of said player needs to match that of what Fabinho did best during his prime at Anfield, and what Endo is now also doing very well in a Liverpool shirt.
Key Attributes for the Ideal Candidate
First and foremost the ideal target needs to be able to cover a lot of ground. Liverpool’s number eights will often push into really advanced territories, and sometimes the holding midfielder has to provide cover sufficiently and quickly behind them.
Matching the Standards of Fabinho and Endo
On top of that, the ideal holding midfielder also needs to be really good at reading the play and anticipating danger. Fabinho always thrived at making a high volume of interceptions during his time at Liverpool. At his prime during the 2018/19 season and the 2019/20 season, he averaged just over seven possession adjusted-interceptions per 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, Endo is currently averaging 8.81 for Liverpool this season.
Aside from those two key pieces of defensive contribution, the ideal candidate should also be proficient in winning duels – averaging at least a 60% success rate.
And they should be effective in possession, capable of dropping deep, receiving the ball under pressure and instigating quick transitions and attacks.
Finding a Player Who Fits All Criteria
Having read all of the above, you might think this is too much to ask, or that there are very few players of that quality available in world football at the moment. You’d be right.
I’d also add that most of the players available in that category are probably way beyond Liverpool’s budget or already out of reach.
However, there is one player in Mats Wieffer, who might just tick all the boxes, and who could be available for a price Liverpool can afford.
Wieffer is a senior Dutch international, who plays for Feyenoord. He has been linked with Liverpool in the past. Football Transfers previously reported that Wieffer was on the club’s radar.
And it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if that report was accurate, because Wieffer seems to tick a lot of boxes for Liverpool.
Mats Wieffer: A Potential Perfect Fit
First of all, he is only 24 years old, and he is valued at around £25M-30m in the current market – which is a bargain price for a player of his quality. That already makes Wieffer a suitable candidate for Liverpool.
Wieffer’s Defensive and Tactical Strengths
But what makes him tick even more boxes is that he seems to be a bit of a gem data-wise and someone who is very much going under the radar.
One of the first things that immediately stands out about Wieffer is that he is very effective at reading the game – he anticipates danger well. Last season out of midfielders he ranked in second place in the Eredivisie for possession-adjusted interceptions averaging 9.67 per 90 according to Wyscout. This season he ranks top averaging 8.62 per 90. Those are roughly similar figures to the numbers the likes of Endo and Fabinho have posted in the holding midfield position for Liverpool.
Defensively, Wieffer is again very active. In the Eredivisie, he averages the second most successful defensive actions per 90 (12.8). Considering he plays for the team currently second on the table and who dominates possession, is a high volume. He also wins 67.59% of his defensive duels – which again because he averages the fourth most defensive duels (8.97 per 90) out of midfielders in the league is a high return.
To put it succinctly, in terms of his defensive data Wieffer is a perfect fit for Liverpool.
Wieffer’s Impact in Possession
On the ball, Wieffer is effective, too. It’s important to note that he plays for a team in Feyenoord who as stated above will dominate possession in the Eredivisie. So his passing stats have to come with a caveat.
Nonetheless, he averages the third most passes per 90 (60.8) among midfielders in the league and has the best pass completion rate in the top three completing an impressive 89.0% of his passes.
He doesn’t just play safe and easy passes either. He ranks fourth for passes into the final third (9.46 per 90) and third for progressive passes (9.46 per 90). He is cool and calm under pressure, deals with the press well and is very adept at using the ball effectively to work into dangerous areas on the pitch.
On top of everything else, Wieffer also covers so much ground. If you take a look at his heatmap (provided by Wyscout) it’s pretty much red everywhere on the pitch which is exactly what you want from a holding midfielder playing for Liverpool.
Final Thoughts on Wieffer as a Potential Liverpool Signing
Wieffer is simply a statistical gem. He is the right age and style for Klopp’s Liverpool. It’s no surprise the club have been looking at him as a potential option, and it would be even less of a surprise if the Reds tried to bring him to Anfield.
Especially with Lijnders’ recent habit of buying Dutch international players from Cody Gakpo to Ryan Gravenberch.