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Five replacements for Raúl Jiménez who would be better than Diego Costa

Wolverhampton Wanderers suffered a big blow earlier this season when Raúl Jiménez suffered a sickening skull fracture in an accidental collision with David Luiz during the Premier League game against Arsenal. With the player’s health being the priority, Wolves’ fans will have been encouraged to hear that the Mexican has returned to light training, raising the hope of him being able to feature at some point before the end of this season. Nevertheless, it is always better to err on the side of caution with these sorts of injuries, so it would not be a surprise if Jiménez does not play again during the 2020/21 campaign.

This has led to a bit of a problem for Nuno Espirito Santo – he has lost his main striker, who has been responsible for the majority of Wolves’ goals since they were promoted to the Premier League a couple of seasons ago. While the club did break their transfer record to sign Fábio Silva from Porto, he is still only 18 years old, and the plan always was to slowly integrate him into English football. However, Nuno has been forced to use him much more than he would have wanted to in recent weeks, and the youngster has shown that he is still a raw prospect, rather than coming anywhere close to replicating Jiménez ‘s impact for Wolves.

Thus, signing a striker in the January window seems like a priority for the West Midlands side, albeit one who would be content to play a backup role to Jiménez once he is back fit. There have been rumours that they could move for Diego Costa, who was recently released by Atletico Madrid. While there are obvious attractions to such a deal, since Wolves would not need to pay a transfer fee, and arriving at a deal could be made easier by the presence of Jorge Mendes, the Portuguese ‘super-agent’ who has ties at Wolves and is Costa’s agent as well, we believe that Wolves can find better value in the market than moving for a 32-year-old injury-prone striker who may just be past his prime, and who would also command huge wages, and a potential starting role which could cause issues once Jiménez is back to full fitness.

Thus, we have used our exclusive XGold tool to try and find suitable replacements that Wolves could target in this window, bearing in mind that they would not want to spend too much money on one – as per the Football Index Analysis.

With this in mind, we have looked at the top five European leagues (Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Ligue Un and the Bundesliga), along with the EFL Championship, the Greek Super League, the Austrian Bundesliga, the Portuguese Primeira Liga and the Turkish Super Lig for our shortlist, based on Wolves’ prior recruitment history. In addition, we have also considered any free agents who may be available. Data has been taken from Wyscout, and we have only considered players between the ages of 24 and 30, assuming that Wolves will want a somewhat experienced player to come in, rather than a callow youngster like Silva, or someone who is the wrong side of 30. Our player profiles show metrics in terms of percentiles, which reflect the player’s performance on that particular stat in comparison with the rest of the players in the league in that position.

André Silva – 25, Eintracht Frankfurt

Wolves’ preference for Portuguese players over the last couple of years is well known, with a number of players from the Iberian country finding a new home in Wolverhampton. Thus, it is perhaps fitting that our first recommendation is another Portuguese striker, André Silva. The 25-year-old has started this Bundesliga season extremely well for Eintracht Frankfurt, where his initial loan deal from AC Milan has been converted into a permanent transfer. Thus, Silva will probably be a slightly expensive option, but at 25, and with international experience as well as strong performances over the last 18 months or so, he would be an excellent acquistion who would provide top-level competition for Jiménez.

He has already scored nine goals in the Bundesliga so far this season, from just 13 games (1105 minutes played), having managed 12 from 25 appearances last season in the league. As the profile shows, Silva has been among the most dangerous strikers in the Bundesliga over the last year, ranking above the 90th percentile for xG per 90 as well as non-penalty goals scored per 90. He is taking a high number of shots despite not getting too many touches in the box, which is an indication of his efficiency, while the high percentile rank for xG/shot shows that he is taking those shots from generally good positions as well. He is also near the 80th percentile for xA per 90, therefore showing a creative threat alongside his obvious goalscoring impact as well. He has two assists so far this season, from an xA total of 2.58, while he has scored his nine goals from an xG total of 9.58, suggesting that he is broadly performing in line with his metrics, and thus we could expect this trend to continue as long as he keeps getting into good positions, and continues to finish well (as shown by his high rank for goal conversion %).

A comparison with Jiménez would seem apt at this time –

We can see that Silva is broadly outperforming Jiménez on a host of attacking metrics over the last year or so.  Stylistically as well, Silva could be a good fit for Wolves, with creative, quick players such as Daniel Podence, Pedro Neto and Adama Traoré playing around him, while he will also find it easy to settle in due to the large Portuguese contingent among the players and staff. As his heatmap shows, he does like to drift across the width of the pitch, which would allow him to link up with the aforementioned attackers, while he is good in the air as well, another area where Wolves are suffering due to the loss of Jiménez, which has robbed them of a physical presence up front as well. Thus, we believe that Silva would make for an excellent signing for Wolves, if they are willing to spend a little bit more in this window.

Andrea Petagna – 25, Napoli

Napoli are a team who arguably have too many strikers on their books, and are looking to move some of them on to free up space in the squad as well as on the wage bill. Andrea Petagna is one of those, with the Italian having struggled to find a place in the Napoli XI ever since his move from SPAL in January 2020. However, according to our tool, Petagna would make for a decent replacement and backup for Jiménez, and there are certain characteristics of his style of play which would be a good fit for Wolves.

Petagna has only played 576 minutes in Serie A this season, which shows that he is a marginal figure at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. However, in that time, there are a few metrics that stand out, as well as across the calendar year, where he featured quite a lot more. Petagna has managed to be near the 75th percentile for touches in the box/90 for all strikers in the league, despite his limited playing time, while he is also in the 70th percentile for shots per 90 and just under that for headed goals per 90. This demonstrates a striker who is a target man and a penalty box presence, as can be seen from his heat map as well. He is also good at linking play, as shown by the high percentile rank for accurate forward pass %, and this is a necessary trait for any Wolves striker, since he will need to be able to combine with the wingers and/or attacking midfielders, given the team’s preference towards playing a quick, direct style of play.

In terms of a comparison with Jiménez, it is obvious that Petagna has been largely inferior across most metrics this season, other than for touches in the box per 90. However, it is revealing that he seems to have the same style of play as the Mexican, based on his strengths and weaknesses as seen here, and thus could potentially be a good option for Wolves to explore, as he could potentially offer a similar output as that of Jiménez without too much disruption. Napoli are unlikely to ask for a prohibitively high fee, so this could be a move worth pursuing for Wolves.

Paulinho – 28, Sporting Braga

Yet another Portuguese striker for Wolves to consider, this time from Sporting Braga, in the Primeira Liga. Paulinho is something of a late bloomer, having moved to Braga from Gil Vicente in 2017 and subsequently finishing as their top scorer that season. He recently made his debut for the Portugal national side, scoring twice against Andorra, and has nine goals and four assists in all competitions so far this season, from 22 appearances (1409 minutes). This includes three goals and assists in the Europa League as well, as Braga came through the group stage to land a tie against AS Roma in the round of 32. Paulinho thus has recent top-level experience which would be beneficial to Wolves, while he has also been a strong performer in Liga NOS over the last year, as seen by the metrics above. He is above the 90th percentile for xG per 90 and touches in the box per 90, while also performing well for non-penalty goals per 90, shots per 90 and headed goals per 90, all of which point towards him being an extremely effective and clinical striker. His creative abilities have also come through during this time – he ranks high for smart passes and key passes per 90 among Primeira Liga strikers, and in the 70th percentile for xA per 90. An 80th percentile rank for aerial duels won % shows that he can also be a robust presence up front, both on the attack as well as during defensive set-pieces, which is a role that was performed well by Jiménez, and is something that Wolves are missing in his absence.

Paulinho has outperformed Jiménez over the last year on a number of key metrics, even though we need to account for the fact that Paulinho is playing in a much weaker league. Nevertheless, this is impressive, and shows how the 28-year-old could be a shrewd addition to the Wolves squad, both as a short-term replacement for Jiménez in the lineup, as well as a long-term rotation option. Given the success that the Mexican himself has had since moving to Wolves from the Portuguese league, Paulinho could have a similar impact, especially since at 28, he is experienced enough, and will have a large Portuguese contingent around him to help him settle.

João Pedro – 28, Cagliari

Not to be confused with his namesake at Watford, João Pedro is a Brazilian forward who has been having a very good season for Cagliari in Serie A. He has been used across the forward line, on both wings as well as centrally, and so he offers a different sort of option than the others on this list, in that he is not an out-and-out centre-forward. However, the Brazilian has showed enough attacking threat to be a good choice for Wolves if they do go for him, scoring 10 goals and notching two assists in 16 appearances so far this season (1420 minutes). He would also give Nuno options out wide, allowing him to be rotated with the likes of Neto and Podence. His profile shows that he has been extremely efficient over the last 12 months, as seen by the high percentile rank for goal conversion %, while also ranking in the 70th percentile for xG per 90. Good performances on both these metrics shows that he is getting into good goalscoring positions and then finishing well, which is a promising sign. He is also above the 80th percentile for aerial duels won, which is again a good indicator that he could fill that gap for Wolves in the absence of Jiménez.

Pedro has been notably poorer than Jiménez on some metrics, while outperforming him on others. He would be a slightly risky option for Wolves, given that he is showing a level of finishing ability at the moment which may not be sustainable. However, his versatility could make him a decent option for the West Midlands side should they go for him, which would also allow him to be a squad member even when Jiménez returns from injury.

Alexandre Lacazette – 29, Arsenal

Perhaps the most high-profile player on our shortlist, Lacazette has enjoyed a resurgence at Arsenal in recent weeks, after having struggled at the start of the season. The 29-year-old has become the focal point for the Gunners’ attack, but he would be a very good alternative to Jiménez for Wolves if they can manage to lure him to Molineux. He has thrived when dropping off from the front and linking up with young, rapid attackers such as Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith-Rowe, and Wolves have a similar setup, where Jiménez would be involved in the build-up towards releasing the likes of Podence, Neto and Traoré behind the opposition’s defensive line. In terms of metrics, we can see that Lacazette has been performing at a high level in the league over the last 12 months or so. He is among the best in the league for goal conversion %, while he is also a highly successful dribbler, and is scoring goals at a decent rate as well. His passing and progression metrics show how involved he gets in Arsenal’s buldup, while he is also active defensively, as seen by high ranks for fouls, defensive duels and PAdj interceptions.

The comparison with Jiménez shows that they are different types of strikers, and so Wolves will potentially need to tweak their style of play a little bit. Lacazette is not dominant aerially, for example, and he does well when the team plays a quick, rapid style of football. However, Wolves have been playing with a front two of Podence and Neto in some games since the Mexican’s injury, and in general have been looking to move to a more progressive style of play, with Nuno also using a back four for the first time ever since his arrival at the club. Lacazette would therefore be a big step towards helping the club in that regard, and there may be a case for Wolves to take advantage of the current uncertainty surrounding his contract at Arsenal, which expires in 18 months, and bring in a high-class forward to compete with Jiménez.

Conclusion

Wolves will struggle for goals, as well as in terms of their general attacking threat, due to the absence of Jiménez this season. They have recalled Patrick Cutrone from his loan at Fiorentina to try and make up the numbers, but judging by the Italian’s struggle to adapt to the league during the first half of the 2019/20 season, it would perhaps be better for them to make a push towards bringing someone else in this January. Some of the targets on this list could be a little expensive, but they would be great short-term replacements for Jiménez, as well as providing him with the competition he has lacked ever since his arrival at the club. This would also give Nuno the confidence to rotate his strikers, and allow Wolves to make the step up towards being regular contenders for Europa League places, due to their increased attacking prowess.