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July 1, 2014

Who Should Liverpool Buy to Replace Luis Suarez?

By Ted Knutson

Back in January, I started nosing around with similarity scores when looking at potential replacements for Steven Gerrard. Not because Gerrard was going to leave Liverpool, but because he is aging, and bringing in a replacement now would make for a smoother transition in the long-term and give Liverpool cover, should he get injured. Liverpool didn’t sign anyone in January, but it still made for a fun exercise.

Today we’re going to do the same thing for Luis Suarez. I do not expect this to be an easy exercise, and Suarez’s 2013-14 season was one of the best in Premier League history. He was second in all of Europe in scoring contribution (pipped narrowly by Sergio Aguero), and if you factor in how many more games Luis played, it assuredly ranks as one of the best forward seasons in Premier League history.

So replacing Luis Suarez? Nooooo problem!

[Translation: Big, big problem.]

Now there are a lot of ways to go about developing sim scores for footballers, but today I’m going to keep it simple and do one simply based off statistical production. All of the stats here are the usual Opta-based spiffiness.

Stats We Care About

Suarez does a crazy amount of things well. Check this out.

Suarez 2014

That is a big plot. Shot monster, dribble monster, and key passes in the top 10% or so of all forward seasons. The throughball number is also great, but I’m uncertain how much of that is the result of Liverpool’s tactics, so we’ll leave that one looser for now.

Tight Filter Results
Over the last five seasons of play in the big 5 leagues plus this season’s Eredivisie, how many players  have had a single season of production like Luis Suarez?

Two.

Arjen Robben did it twice for Bayern, and the other match is some dude named Lionel Messi. Even Suarez last season did not qualify to match himself on the tight filter.

That’s it. Liverpool are unlikely to find a direct, immediate replacement for Suarez’s output. To be fair, that’s what I expected. Your chances of finding someone to immediately replicate one of the greatest seasons in EPL history are pretty slim.

Okay, so let’s loosen the filters a bit. We’ll shave 10-15% off our expectations in a few stats and see if anyone else crops up.

Medium High Filter Results
This produced interesting results, even if it’s still a fairly small population. Up crop Ronaldo 2009-10, Zlatan 11-12, Suarez last season, plus three more names. The first of those names is already a Liverpool player.

Coutinho 2014

If Coutinho had better shooting accuracy, he would be unbelievable. That could change this season. Incredibly, he’s still only 21.

Dries Mertens 2014

Then you have 27-year-old Dries Mertens at Napoli, who also had a really impressive season. He’s probably too old to really interest Liverpool, and Napoli always sell high, but it’s worth noting he’s there.

Finally you have probably the best option of the lot. 20-year-old Memphis Depay of PSV Eindhoven.

Memphis-Depay-2014

Raw? Yes.  He will do some heads in while he is still learning the game.

Shot monster? Oh yeah.

Dribble monster? Check.

HUGE key pass numbers? Also check.

At age 20. He’s still learning, but given that statistical output, how can you afford not to buy Depay? To those skeptical of Eredivisie output, all I can do is point out the fact that a) Suarez came from there, b) Christian Eriksen came from there, and c) The dude is just 20 years of age, has all the physical tools in the world, and is banging home goals in the World Cup.

Medium Strict Filter Results
Still unsatisfied with how small the population of potential targets was, I went back to the well once more and loosened the filters. This gave me about twice as many total historic seasons to look at that included Reus 2012 (at Gladbach even), Insigne at Napoli last year (not a fan, but whatever), Pjanic at Roma (12-13), Adem Ljajic at Fiorentina (12-13), Santi Cazorla at Arsenal (12-13), Sidney Sam that same year (bought for 2.5M euros this spring due to a release clause), and two more really interesting names.

The first name on the list is Daniel Sturridge 2012-13, which is pretty cool. That gives Liverpool two players like Suarez already in their team. (Remember the important rules, Liverpool fans: Don’t panic and carry a towel.)

The last player to pop up on the list is this guy, who will be playing in a few hours against Argentina in the World Cup.

Shaqiri 2014

Who Liverpool have already been rumored to be buying all summer.

So yeah, there’s my exploration into similarity scores and players that might replace Luis Suarez, should he bugger off to Spain. I hope you enjoyed this, and I look forward to seeing where Shaqiri and Depay end up at by the end of this summer.

–TK

Article by Ted Knutson