Liverpool's left-back conundrum: Alternative targets to Napoli's Faouzi Ghoulam

Liverpool's left-back conundrum: Alternative targets to Napoli's Faouzi Ghoulam

A breakdown of alternatives to rumoured number one Liverpool target Faouzi Ghoulam.

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Liverpool and the left-back position is possibly one of the worst love stories to ever be written, something Jürgen Klopp and company are looking to change this summer.

Napoli left-back and Algerian international Faouzi Ghoulam has been linked with the Reds in hope that he might be the player to finally end Liverpool's long wait for a quality left-back.

But questions remain over the much-maligned perceived hesitancy by the club's management in grabbing quality players quickly, with the club garnering a reputation for missing out on bonafide stars as the result of squabbling over transfer fees.  

Historical struggles

Left-back is a position of such struggle for the illustrious football club that the likes of Paul Konchesky, Aly Cissokho, and Stewart Downing have graced the pitch for Liverpool there within the past eight years.

While others such as José Enrique, Jon Flanagan, Fabio Aurelio and Glen Johnson, and even James Milner have done a solid job in spurts throughout the years, Liverpool have lacked a consistently fit quality left-back since the best years of John Arne Riise - well over a decade ago. 

Ghoulam's background

So who exactly is Ghoulam? 

Born in central France, the 26-year-old spent 11 years in the Academy of St. Etienne before making his first team debut for the Ligue 1 side in 2010 and going on to make almost 100 appearances for the French side, scoring one goal.

During his time at the club, Ghoulam won the French League Cup and went on to represent the country of his parents' birth, Algeria.

In 2014, he was brought to Serie A side Napoli by none other than former Liverpool manager, Rafa Benítez. Although Benítez departed the following season as the result of a poor fifth-placed finish in the league, Ghoulam has cemented himself as Napoli's starting left-back in the process of winning both the Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana, and being named to the Europa League Team of the Year in the 2014-15 season.  

The Algerian is very much the complete package, garnering nine assists in 41 matches this past season for Napoli, while defensively he boasts similar statistics to Barcelona's Jordi Alba, Bayern Munich's David Alaba and Chelsea's Marcos Alonso.

Image Courtesy of WhoScored.com
Image Courtesy of WhoScored.com

However, his quality hasn't gone unnoticed with both Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain among the clubs reportedly interested in him alongside Liverpool.

Alternative targets

So in the event that Liverpool are unable to secure Ghoulam's services, who could be some potential alternatives? Let's take a look at the candidates...

First, let's assess Liverpool's current stock, first-choice Milner and the Englishman's out-of-favour back-up Alberto Moreno.

Milner's offensive statistics are a bit deceiving to be quite honest. The former England international managed seven goals and three assists this past season, with all seven goals coming from the penalty spot and having received a good bit of criticism for his hesitancy to cross with his weaker left foot. However, defensively Milner seems to blow Ghoulam out of the water in certain categories. 

Image Courtesy of WhoScored.com
Image Courtesy of WhoScored.com

As seen above, Milner's tackles per match and clearances per match are thoroughly superior to that of Ghoulam's while the Napoli mean beats Milner in interceptions. The two are even in terms of the number of fouls they give away per match.

However, stepping away from the numbers for a moment, we must realise that Milner is five years older, still remains a player out of position, and despite his best efforts seems to be struggling slightly in offensive production for a manager in Jürgen Klopp who loves to see his full-backs get forward. Logic would have it, Ghoulam is the better long-term option.   

This author's original intent was to also show you data from fellow Liverpool full-back, Alberto Moreno, in comparison but his numbers are so abhorrently poor and his performances so maligned there's truly no point.

However, it should be noted that Liverpool rejected an £11 million bid from Napoli for the Spaniard, who upon further thought could make a nice makeweight in a potential transfer for Ghoulam.

Looking outside of the squad

There are some better-known commodities in British football and arguably, cheaper alternatives worthy of examination as well. For the sake of realism, let's examine three players that have been linked with Liverpool so far this window...

Andy Robertson - Hull City: The Scottish international has been lampooned by fans for the lack of ambition the club would be perceived in showing if they were to acquire him.

But there is something to be said for only paying £10 million for a player who was one of the few positive aspects of an otherwise ill-fated campaign for ultimately relegated Hull City.

Robertson pales in comparison to both Milner and Ghoulam offensively, with one goal, two assists, and an average of less than a cross per game but at just 23 years old, he has room to grow.

Defensively, however, he boasts a better tackles, interceptions, clearances, and blocks per game ratio than Ghoulam. It should be noted, however, that defenders in relegation-threatened teams tend to present better statistically due to the nature of their situation, with Hull's goal under constant threat this past season.  

Ryan Bertrand - Southampton: Ah, Southampton. Liverpool's tried-and-tested scouting team. While perhaps cliché, having a punt at 27-year-old Bertrand could prove to be a good bit of business for Liverpool.

Valued at £20 million by Transfermarkt, the fee seems in line with what modern football values a solid player at these days, and it is around what Liverpool have paid for Southampton players in the past.

Defensively he matches up quite well with Ghoulam, and despite Southampton having a down year overall, he managed three goals and four assists this season and seems to be Gareth Southgate's first choice left-back for England these days.  

Gaël Clichy - Manchester City: Clichy is a mixed back in terms of a transfer for a number of reasons. Although the Frenchman would arrive on a free transfer from City, he was on a £90,000-per-week contract while at the Citizens and would likely be expected to take a pay cut if he were to join Liverpool.

Add to that the fact that Clichy is 31 years old and a perceived City castaway and it's understandable why fans would have some doubts about a move for the former Arsenal man.

However, like the players previously mentioned, Clichy appears to be another case of defensive solidity with a need for improvement on the offensive side of things. The former Citizen had two goals last season and defensively falls somewhere between Ghoulam and Milner.

 

Alternatives abroad

Despite a mixed bag in terms of the quality of recruits from the Bundesliga we've seen under Klopp, there are a number of interesting possibilities from the German league as well as elsewhere that Liverpool could look to dip into...

Jonas Hector - 1. FC Köln: Nicknamed 'Mr. Reliable', the German international is capable of playing at left-back, defensive midfield, and in emergencies, even centre-back.

The 27-year-old's stock has risen substantially since the end of the 2015-16 season, having captained Köln, signed a new contract despite interest from Liverpool this past summer, and seemingly cemented his place as Germany's starting left-back following impressive Euro 2016 and 2017 Confederations Cup tournaments.

At 6ft, he's quite tall for a left-back and has garnered a reputation as a set-piece specialist for Köln. Case in point with respect to his rise in stock, when Liverpool's initial interest in him was registered last season he was valued at £7.5 million while Transfermarkt now values him at £20 million.

Defensively, his numbers beat even Milner in virtually every category. While offensively, his personal statistics may have suffered this season, having been forced to play as a defensive midfielder in front of a back three, his one goal and two assists helped Köln to a Europa League spot via a fifth-placed finish in the Bundesliga, their best finish in the past 25 years. Given his myriad of talents, it is no wonder Liverpool were - and hopefully still are - interested in him.   

Wendell - Bayer Leverkusen: A player who seems destined for great things at the international level once the mercurial Marcelo of Real Madrid retires, 23-year-old Wendell has been garnering accolades and attention since his days in Brazil.

A regular for the youth sides of the Brazilian national team, the left back was most recently part of the national team set up in October of 2016 when he was called up for World Cup qualifiers. Awarded the best left-back in the 2013 Campeonato Paranaense (a regional cup competition in Brazil), Wendell would move to Bundesliga side, Bayer Leverkusen the following year.

Wendell had two goals and three assists in an otherwise poor Leverkusen side that finished 12th, a far cry from their third-place finish the season before.

As seen below he's defensively very sound but Leverkusen are very short in terms of defensive players and having already sold prized midfielder Hakan Çalhanoğlu to AC Milan, they might be hesitant to let go of any more starters, despite possessing a quality youth academy. 

Image Courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

Alejandro Grimaldo, Benfica: Potentially a bit of a risk, 21-year-old Spanish fullback, Alejandro 'Alex' Grimaldo is a talented player, rebuilding his career at the moment.

Grimaldo is the youngest ever player to have played in the Spanish Second Division, having made his debut for Barcelona's B side just short of his 16th birthday back in 2011.

Highly regarded, he went on to captain Barcelona's youngsters but between a serious knee injury and the slowing of the pipeline from La Masia to the first team, never made an appearance for Barcelona's senior side and left for Benfica in December of 2015.

This past season he split time with veteran Eliseu at left-back for Benfica as the Portuguese side won the league and cup double.

Defensively his numbers are superb, beating Milner and Ghoulam in virtually every category while also contributing two goals and three assists in league play this season.

However, questions could be asked about his fitness, particularly given Klopp's penchant for high-intensity football and the club may desire a more established player anyway.   

The dream alternative

Benjamin Mendy - AS Monaco: Despite reportedly being on the verge of signing for Manchester City, Mendy was supposedly Liverpool's number one target at left-back prior to the club's shift in focus and frankly, upon examination, it's clear to see why.

While he commits more fouls per game, Mendy is superior to Ghoulam in every defensive category as seen below.

Image Courtesy of WhoScored.com
Image Courtesy of WhoScored.com

The Frenchman had one goal and eight assists this past season in comparison to Ghoulam's zero goals and nine assists, while the duo each averaged 1.5 aerial duels won per match and finally, Mendy averages 1.5 crosses per match to Ghoulam's 1.8.

Defensively superior and near identical otherwise, it's no wonder that Liverpool were after Mendy before the left-back moved close to a switch to City.

While the player Liverpool get is ultimately unclear for now, one this is certain. If Liverpool are to progress as a club and compete on multiple fronts they'll have to do as the stockbrokers do and "buy buy buy."

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