Liverpool could replace Mohamed Salah with £34m Real Madrid forward

When it comes to Liverpool’s frontline, flexibility is the order of the day. Diogo Jota, Sadio Mane and Takumi Minamino each made at least one start in all three of the available positions last season.

The composition of Jurgen Klopp’s new look favored front three is yet to be determined but the Reds attacking signings in 2021/22 have also shown they can be versatile. Luis Diaz has already played on both sides for Liverpool while Darwin Nunez proved productive for Benfica both centrally and on the left.

As such, it’s no surprise to see the club linked with further players who can fulfill more than one role at the business end of the pitch. One rumor which refuses to go away is the idea of ​​Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio signing for Liverpool.

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Last summer it was claimed that the Reds had made a £34million bid for the Spanish international, then in February it was reported he had received offers from both Arsenal and Liverpool. With Mane’s time with the club at an end and Mohamed Salah entering the final year of his contract, it’s plausible that Asensio could be a transfer target.

The 26-year-old has just had the best goal scoring campaign of his career, hitting double figures for the first time. Per WhoScored, Asensio netted six times as a right forward in Carlo Ancelotti’s Liverpool -like 4-3-3 formation, adding three goals in two appearances in midfield, and two from the bench.

A similar pattern has occurred across his seven seasons in La Liga, where 10 of his 32 league goals have been scored when starting on the left of the attack and eight on the opposite side. As for why the Madrid man has reached new heights this season, the answer lies in several related factors.

Asensio scored three times from outside the penalty area, a total of just 15 players (only one of whom played fewer minutes) bettered in Europe’s biggest five leagues. This is an aspect of goal scoring at which Liverpool could improve. They topped the Premier League for shots from outside the box in 2021/22 yet four teams scored more long-range goals than them and Manchester City got nearly twice as many (15 versus eight).

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But as well providing valuable from distance, Asensio took plenty of shots from good locations too. Per Understat, his expected goals per 90 minutes figure of 0.40 was the best of his top flight career. Although not quite among the cream of the European crop last season, it put him in a similar ballpark as Phil Foden, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Marco Reus, for instance. It’s also close to what Mane has offered Liverpool when playing wide, and the Senegalese international is among the 10 players to whom Asensio is most similar (in the opinion of Statsbomb’s data).

He worked opposition goalkeepers at an elite rate too. Only seven players in England, France, Germany, Italy or Spain who took at least 64 shots (Asensio’s total) put a greater proportion of them within the frame of the goal. This accuracy meant he just edged Salah out of the big leagues’ top 10 men for shots on target per 90 minutes in the process.

Liverpool have painfully seen evidence of how lethal Asensio can be. He got the second goal in Real’s 3-1 victory in the first leg of the 2020/21 Champions League quarter-final, capitalizing on a defensive error from Trent Alexander-Arnold. As the return match ended 0-0, the Spaniard’s goal effectively settled the tie.

Could Asensio end up playing for the Reds though? It seems a very unlikely transfer for this summer. But in a year’s time, when both he and Salah will be out of contract as things stand? That seems far more plausible. If the Egyptian moves on at that point, then Asensio could add another degree of flexibility to Klopp’s attacking options for 2023/24.

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