The string-pullers at Liverpool will be delighted with the squad’s rectification following last season’s dreadful decline, slumping into the Europa League after many years of illustrious success as Champions League juggernauts under Jurgen Klopp‘s guidance.
Klopp remains, but there were concerns that the fall from grace was enough to place him in contention for the sack, with the German even admitting that another manager might not have received such true-blue support from the powers that be.
Perhaps it was a natural end for a side that had reaped such gleaming rewards for a number of years, and with Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and co now shipped on over the summer, it does feel like Klopp recognised that his engine room was at its end, and must be written off.
Having reshaped the midfield on an industrial scale, Liverpool are flying in the Premier League and perch in second place, also topping their Europa League group after four matches and awaiting the visit of West Ham United in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals.
There is still much work to do, and Klopp’s proclivity for energy and enthusiasm calls for certain upgrades across the pitch, with the left side of the defence understood to be targetted for investment.
Liverpool transfer targets – Rayan Ait-Nouri
Rated at £17m by CIES Football Observatory, Ait-Nouri has been noted for his pace and dribbling skills, and he could be the perfect option to serve as Andy Robertson’s understudy and replace the under-fire Kostas Tsimikas.
The Montreuil-born player is considered a key cog in Gary O’Neil’s system, however, and prising him away from Molineux at the season’s midpoint will certainly not be straightforward.
Last week, French outlet Le 10 Sport confirmed that the two Premier League sides have been in regular contact, but it will indeed take a sizeable offer to convince Wolves to release their hold on the dynamo.
Rayan Ait-Nouri’s style of play
Fast and ferocious, Ait-Nouri has been making waves in Wolverhampton this season with his heavy-metal approach, catching the eye for an Old Gold team that is perhaps surpassing expectations after losing Julen Lopetegui before the start of the campaign.
Rayan Ait-Nouri: Style Of Play
*Sourced via WhoScored
Signed from French club Angers for around £9.5m in 2021, Wolves have been nurturing the 22-year-old to the fore over the past few seasons and he now looks cemented as the starring left-back, impacting play and proving to be effective from both sides of the pitch.
The £10k-per-week whiz started just nine matches in the Premier League last season (with seven of such appearances coming across the opening 11 games of the term), though his chances of sculpting a promising start to the season were marred by a torrid opening game against Leeds United, where he made an error leading to a goal and scored an own goal.
Lopetegui issued an admission that while the ace was talented with the ball at his feet, there were certain areas of his defensive game that needed work, though it was stressed that he holds all the tools to build a tremendous career.
Rayan Ait-Nouri’s season in numbers
Since the summer, it’s fair to say that Ait-Nouri has held some pensive internal discussions regarding an up-and-down campaign, and having been entrusted with a starring role under O’Neil’s management, he is now flourishing.
As per Sofascore, the 5 foot 10 gem has started 11 of Wolves’ 12 Premier League matches so far, completing 84% of his passes, averaging 0.4 key passes, 2.5 tackles and 4.4 ball recoveries per game and succeeding with 58% of his attempted duels.
If we compare this with last year, it becomes crystal clear that he has ramped up the gas, having averaged just 0.3 key passes and 1.6 tackles per game.
This is a testament to his unwavering belief in his ability and work-rate in improving upon his past travails, and given that he is making such increments, it may well be the apt moment for Liverpool to swoop, providing Robertson with competition and providing the prospective acquisition with a pathway to the No. 1 spot at Anfield in the future.
Robertson, aged 29, will hope to retain his prominent position for several years to come, but, is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury and is still expected to be out for a further two months.
Tsimikas has been promoted to the first team in the Premier League in the Scotland captain’s absence, and while he bagged two assists in the 3-0 victory over Brentford before the ongoing international break, he has not quite grasped his opportunity, instead receiving criticism for his defensive displays.
How Rayan Ait-Nouri compares to Kostas Tsimikas
Tsimikas was cheaply dispossessed for Toulouse’s opener in Liverpool’s shock Europa League defeat before the November break, which was yet another deflating moment after a terrible display against LASK earlier in the competition, where he was branded “abysmal” by one Liverpool-focused podcaster.
Klopp clearly doesn’t trust him, and has even fielded right-footed Joe Gomez in the left-back role on occasion as he looks to settle the defence’s equilibrium; were Virgil van Dijk not in such stunning form, there might be more noise surrounding the £75k-per-week player’s performances.
He does have his qualities, of course, but he is effectively a simulated version of Robertson, which is indicative of how Klopp wants the role to be utilised in fairness, but by signing Ait-Nouri, a whole new realm of dimension would be opened.
For example, Tsimikas ranks among the top 2% of full-backs across Europe’s top five leagues over the past year for assists, the top 10% for shot-creating actions and the top 6% for passes attempted per 90, as per FBref.
As the statistic highlights, Tsimikas may well be the more ‘creative’ of the pair at the moment, but Ait-Nouri is far most robust and progressive as a whole, with FBref ranking him among the top 3% of full-backs across Europe’s top five leagues for successful take-ons and the top 5% for tackles per 90.
It’s important to note that while Ait-Nouri has not actually been providing any assists recently, he has been an exceptional presence in O’Neil’s side, crucial in driving forward and crowbarring his way through opposition backlines.
The three-cap Algeria international has been hailed for his “phenomenal” skills by The Athletic’s Tim Spiers already, and while he is still developing, Klopp will be certain that Ait-Nouri’s natural talents can be nurtured and refined under his leadership.
While Tsimikas is a decent backup option on Merseyside, he is definitely not the standard to start in the best team possible, instead called upon for the major moments when all else fails.
Ait-Nouri, however, boasts enough potential to possibly make the position his own in the future, and the Reds must now make their move to secure his signature and seal a big upgrade on their Greek left-back.