Paul Higham takes an in-depth look at Timo Werner and assesses whether he will make his move to Liverpool or not.
Neither Timo Werner nor RB Leipzig quite managed to pick up where they had left off before the Bundesliga's enforced break in what was a rusty display against a stubborn Freiburg.
Although it was their third league draw in a row, RB's final outing before the two-month hiatus was a Werner-inspired 3-0 thrashing of Spurs in the Champions League, a performance that got a lot of people talking.
So expect a response at Mainz on Sunday - I'm sure Werner will be keen to make sure he isn't kept out of the headlines by Leverkusen's Kai Havertz, and Dortmund's Erling Haaland for successive weekends.
Prior to football's shutdown, there’d been more flirting between Werner and Liverpool than an entire series of Love Island, with the Germany striker talking in glowing terms of the Reds, their manager and their style of play.
It seemed like just a matter of time before Liverpool would pull the trigger and match the RB Leipzig man’s £52m release clause and grant him his wish of a move to Anfield.
While the effects of the coronavirus pandemic may have closed that door slightly, as the old saying goes, 'when one door closes another one opens' – and the entrances to Old Trafford, the Etihad and Stamford Bridge all seem to be ajar for his prospective arrival.
That’s not to say that Werner isn’t still a wanted man at Anfield, but of those four clubs Liverpool’s financial situation, and their ownership model, may prevent them splashing out the cash whenever the next transfer window opens.
That’s just one of the questions around Werner’s move to Merseyside, but it may be the biggest deciding factor as the player himself is apparently “ready to move to Liverpool”.
Werner has seemingly ruled out a move to Bayern, leaving the Premier League big guns, or maybe the LaLiga elite to fight it out for his signature, and it’s a signature that’s well worth having, especially for the price.
In truth, he’s a player that would suit any top team, but it’s Liverpool who have long been leading the way.
Put simply, you just have to be interested in signing Werner for a little over £50m considering he’s scored 28 goals and made 11 assists in just 37 games this season. And he’s only 24.
Goal returns of 21, 21, 19 and now 27 are extremely consistent for a young forward and he’s already got plenty of Champions League and international experience (11 goals in 29 games for Germany) under his belt as well. Almost 300 senior games having just turned 24, that's some record.
Having played under Ralph Hasenhuttl, Ralf Rangnick, and Julian Nagelsmann already he’s been well schooled in a similar footballing ethos that Jurgen Klopp has brought to Anfield, and as we’ve seen a few times now his obvious desire is to move to Merseyside.
Stylistically it’s a great fit as although Werner can line up centrally he can operate in any forward position, offering touch and vision when deeper but also an attacking dribbler side.
In the massively underrated goal involvement following a dribble stat, Werner comes out even above Jadon Sancho meaning that when he does run with the ball it’s usually decisive.
He's also got more goals and had more shots at the end of counter attacks than anyone else in the Bundesliga this season, and Klopp loves a counter attack. Werner gets more chances than Salah, having a slightly better xG per 90 minutes than the Egyptian (0.57 to 0.45) which is some achievement given Salah's goal threat.
So why are Liverpool fans still not able to get ‘Werner’ on the back of their shirts? Well, most importantly it’s the three huge goal-scoring elephants in the room – Firmino, Salah and Mane. It’s a brave coach that brings in that level of competition to the most devastating from three in Europe just to ‘mix things up’.
Whether Liverpool lift the title officially or not, they’ve dominated the Premier League like no other before them, hence their record lead, but standing still means you’re going backwards in this game and whenever football can resume again everybody will be coming for Liverpool.
For my money, Werner’s still worth bringing in. It’d be hard to justify the outlay for Sancho but at about half the fee the Germany forward would offer something slightly different – and a genuine world-class option behind the three Kop stars.
Origi is a cult hero with some hugely important goals under his belt, but he’s not at Werner’s level – Shaqiri can’t stay fit, Oxlade-Chamberlain may be better in midfield and the jury’s out on Minamino. Those reserve options just aren’t the kind of back-ups that could keep Liverpool at the top, when Man City start games with Mahrez or Sterling on the bench.
The output from Liverpool’s red arrows is phenomenal, 209 goals and 90 assists since Salah joined the band in 2017, but almost equally impressive has been their durability.
Mane, Salah and Firmino combined have been missing through injury or suspension just 14 times in the almost three Premier League seasons they’ve played together. Only once has Klopp started a game without his front three, against Burnley in December 2018, and then both Salah and Firmino came on after an hour to force the win.
They’re so important, but they play a lot of football when internationals are thrown in, and while Salah joining Firmino and Mane in turning 28 in June means they all should be in their prime, they will all also age at the same time.
Werner offers a player a bit younger, who can score a bit like Salah, dribble a bit like Mane and work centrally a bit like Firmino. Being able to rest them more, and even keep them on their toes is vital for Liverpool’s longevity at the very top of the footballing tree.
There’s also the tantalising prospect of playing all four if needed. Firmino or Werner would be comfortable dropping into a deep-lying role one behind the other if Klopp moved to a 4-2-3-1 formation he has used on occasion. That would be something to see.
There's a big chance the Reds could pass on Werner, and it does seem as though they're in the driving seat should they want him. Their front three is a delicate ecosystem of Salah's goals, Mane's endeavour and Firmino binding it all together, but if they play it safe there'll be no shortage of takers.
”I would like to play for two or three clubs, and Manchester United are one of those clubs," Werner said only in 2018.
“Manchester United and Liverpool were the teams I watched quite a lot in England. They were the two that I’m a little bit a fan of, because they have so much history. When Alex Ferguson was the coach, United won everything and were outstanding.
"In Liverpool it’s also their stadium and the atmosphere. But when I have to decide, I’m more Manchester United than Liverpool."
It seems now he's more Liverpool than Man Utd, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will no doubt have his eye on him as one of the teams that could spend money this summer even with the current state of flux in the world of sport, let alone football.
Odion Ighalo scored four goals in three starts for United, and although Anthony Martial has been used there, they're crying out for a centre forward to put the ball in the net. With Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and now Bruno Fernandes there's plenty of ammunition being supplied at Old Trafford.
Werner has scored just twice outside the box in the Bundesliga this season and if was to take up that central role it could reap wild rewards for the Red Devils, especially if a Jack Grealish type was also to join.
Just across the City, Pep Guardiola's side would usually be at the top of the list, Werner could be the ready-made replacement for 32-year-old Sergio Aguero, but that Champions League ban is weighing heavy with them - even Kevin De Bruyne may not hang around if it's confirmed.
Chelsea will have funds, but also have a lot of players to try and fit in around those forward positions, while a wild card could be Barcelona, who would love to have Neymar back but may not be able to afford him now.
They have Philippe Coutinho to possibly offer to go the other way if needed, but even if not the £52m wouldn't be a problem like the £200m for Neymar is. There's plenty going on at the Nou Camp right now though that could limit their transfer activity.
It's all been one-way traffic so far with Werner lavishing Liverpool and Klopp with praise, and it surely can't all be unrequited love as a player as good as him throwing himself at you is too good to turn down.
If money is a problem there are all kinds of options, ranging from a Naby Keita return to a Origi/Shaqiri package deal. You'll find teams will have to get creative in these changing transfer times.
If finances allow, Liverpool should really take the plunge. There's no better time to add strength than when youlre already on top, and it'd be a big statement of intent and along the lines of trying to dominate for a few years to come as Klopp has mentioned previously.
So sign him Liverpool, if you can, because chances are he'd come back to haunt the Reds in some way, possibly down the M62 when banging in goals for Man Utd.
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