Could Oumar Solet be Liverpool’s Perfect Joel Matip Heir?

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The need to replace Matip

There is no question about it, Joel Matip’s time at Liverpool should be coming to an end this summer. His contract is set to expire and he will be 33 years old by the end of the summer.

Matip has been a brilliant servant for Liverpool and one of the best free signings in the club’s history. However, from a purely logistical point of view, it makes no sense to offer someone with Matip’s recent injury record and age a new contract.

Liverpool need to look ahead to the future this summer, and investing money on a future centre-back prospect might be the better way to go about things.

Photo: IMAGO

What Liverpool will need to replace

There are two things that Matip is an outlier in which he does well in particular for Liverpool. One is his reading of the game. He’s never been the fastest player, but he’s always been someone very good at positioning himself and always thinking one step ahead of his opponent.

One of the best ways to measure how good a player is at reading the game is through interceptions. And this season Matip averaged the most adjusted interceptions per 90 (9.57) out of any centre-back in the Premier League as per Wyscout.

Another aspect of Matip’s play which has made him integral to Liverpool is his ability to drive forward with the ball. When he is in possession he is not the most aesthetic player, but he is effective. This season in the Premier League, he ranks in third place among centre-backs for progressive runs per 90 (2.24), with only Igor Julio (2.58) and Ruben Dias (3.25) averaging more.

Matip’s runs are especially useful when Liverpool are coming up against a low defensive block. When Matip brings forward the ball and can beat a few opponents he subsequently opens up spaces for Liverpool to exploit and create chances.

If Liverpool are looking at a like-for-like replacement for Matip then those two criteria must be met. The centre-back in question must be good with the ball, and capable of making forward runs. But they must also read the game well, and be effective at anticipating where the ball is going to go.

Photo by IMAGO

Oumar Solet – the perfect candidate?

According to Fabrizio Romano Red Bull Salzburg’s Oumar Solet is someone who is on Liverpool’s transfer radar. Solet was reportedly even explored as a possibility in the January transfer window that just passed.

Immediately just looking at the numbers, Solet fits the Matip criteria.

In the Austrian Bundesliga this season, Solet averages 12.17 possession-adjusted interceptions per 90. This is the third-highest among centre-backs in the league. Meanwhile, he also averages the most dribbles (3.1 per 90) among centre-backs in the league this season and ranks in the top five for progressive runs (1.34 per 90).

So immediately based on the numbers alone, you get the impression that Solet profiles well in Matip’s main strengths for Liverpool.

In general, his other defensive numbers are solid as well. Solet averages 5.9 defensive duels per 90 in the league and wins 65% – which is a decent rate for a centre-back. He also averages a high volume of aerial duels at 4.66 per 90 and wins 64.44% – again that is just on the threshold of what is acceptable for a Liverpool centre-back at 65%.

Solet is also a very progressive player on the ball. Salzburg dominate possession in the Austrian Bundesliga, and Solet is capable of using it effectively. He averages the most forward passes (28.97 per 90) among centre-backs in the league, the most pass into the final third (10.45 per 90) and the second most progressive passes (12.1 per 90).

Solet’s number also holds up well at a higher level. He’s played just under 1000 minutes in the Champions League over the last few years, and he averages 5.71 defensive duels per 90 winning 70%.

Previous masterclass against Liverpool

Few defenders in world football can claim that they’ve managed to keep Darwin Nunez in their pocket over the last couple of years. Solet can be one of the few who has a stake to that claim.

Solet has never faced Liverpool in a competitive game. However, he has come up against Liverpool a few times in pre-season friendlies. The first time was almost five years ago now while he was still at Lyon back in the summer of 2019.

A year later he played Liverpool for Salzburg in a 2-2 thriller, featuring for half an hour in that game.

His best performance came two years later in the summer of 2022. Solet came up against Darwin Nunez in the first half. Six days prior Nunez had scored four goals against RB Leipzig. But he would have no such luck against Solet.

The Salzburg defender won seven out of his eight defensive duels in the game. He also won two out of his two aerial duels. Made seven interceptions and nine recoveries. In typical Solet fashion, he also completed three out of four attempted dribbles from centre-back.

It was a superb performance by the then 22-year-old, and during the ensuing season, Solet showed that quality in the Champions League as well winning a whopping 84% of his 6.09 defensive duels during the 2022/23 campaign.

The Red Bull connection

It is football’s worst-kept secret that Liverpool like to do business with Red Bull clubs. Over the last few years, there have been a quartet of players who have arrived at Liverpool from Red Bull sides. From Naby Keita, Takumi Minamino to Ibrahima Konate and Dominik Szoboszlai.

The reasons for this are obvious. Red Bull play a similar style of gegenpressing football to Jurgen Klopp’s. And they’re also full of exciting young talent.

Both for player and club a move to Liverpool is a natural progression. That’s why so many Red Bull players have also favoured the move to Anfield.

At 24 years old, Solet is ready for that next step in his career. Based on that data he’d be a good fit for Liverpool, too.

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