How would Timo Werner fit into Liverpool’s tactics- tactical analysis
In recent months, Timo Werner has been linked with a switch to Liverpool from RB Leipzig, with the German striker having an excellent season. With a reportedly low release clause for a player of world-class ability, it is no surprise that most clubs have been linked with him this season, but various sources seem to lead to Liverpool being the most likely destination. This poses an interesting question in terms of how he would fit into their current system, with the front three areas locked down by Sadio Mané , Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. In this tactical analysis, I’ll look at the playing style of Timo Werner, how he could be used at Liverpool, and the implications of this on Liverpool’s tactics.
To begin this analysis, I’ve compared Werner’s stats to Liverpool’s current forward options, picking out a template based on the skills required to play within Liverpool’s system. We can see in terms of basic output Werner’s goals and assists are the best out of the players compared, with Werner of course in the Bundesliga. Werner excels in dribbling compared to Roberto Firmino, averaging 2.45 dribbles more with a higher percentage accuracy.
In terms of passing and link-up play, Werner competes with Liverpool’s front three well, with his numbers per 90 similar and accuracy similar. Take his final third passes per 90 for example, where he averages 2.26 per 90 with an accuracy of 74%, which is higher than Salah, Mane and Origi. Of course, Werner would not be arriving to replace any of the front three, but we can see from his stats he fits in well. If there’s an area for improvement it would be his through passes, with his accuracy lower with less attempts, but with both Roberto Firmino and Werner within the same system, this weakness may be concealed by Firmino’s clear strength.
Link up play
As we can see from his stats above, Werner is capable of using his passing to link play, and will often drop deeper or wider in order to receive the ball and then progress it. Likewise, if there is no space to play through, and the space instead exists in behind the opposition, Werner is lightning quick and can run onto these kinds of passes.
We can see below in this phase of play Werner drops deeper to receive the ball before turning.
From here, others are able to make runs ahead of him, and Werner has the ability to pick them out with passes, registering a second assist here with his pass delivered just in front of the target player, allowing the speed of the attack to be maintained.
Here we can see again, Werner drops slightly while players from wide areas make runs from out to in to threaten the opposition defence, playing the exact kind of role Roberto Firmino does at Liverpool. Werner has the quality to recognise the pass and move to receive, and has the quick decision making and technical ability to pick out a pass to the wide player running through.
As we’ll touch on later also, Werner can also excel when space is restricted by the opposition, and can find creative solutions and thread passes in tight areas to set up chances. Here Werner is able to spot the run behind him and back heel the ball into the Leipzig player’s path.
Offensive movement and positioning
The main skill set of a Liverpool forward is their ability to thrive in transition and also be effective when space is restricted, and Werner’s awareness of space and his offensive movement allow him to meet this criterion.
Werner is an intelligent player on and off the ball and his movements and the timings of these allow him to create space for himself and those around him. We can see an example of Werner’s understanding of space here, with Werner starting in a wider area while a pass is played towards the furthest player. Werner starts wide in order to then exploit the space inside, and his pace allows his positioning to be ‘worse’, in that he can go much wider and therefore create much more space for himself, as he has the pace to run into this space quickly. Werner’s run has already began before the ball has even been received by the other player, and is timed perfectly so that he can arrive into the space and has good body orientation. He then clips a long pass into Konrad Laimer who is fouled, and Werner converts the penalty.
Similalry here, Werner starts in an extremely wide area to evade any marking, and then has the pace to move inwards quickly to create an overload.
We can see Werner’s ability to work in limited space here, with Zenit set up in a pretty solid shape around the ball. Werner could take the easier option of trying to play inside to the player on the edge, but this player has immediate pressure from the front and the pass may be intercepted. As a result, Werner opts to dribble and works his way into a central area.
From here, still with limited space against a compact side, Werner is able to thread a clever pass through into a run in behind, which results in a goal for Leipzig. With teams facing Liverpool now often focusing on maintaining a compact mid/deep block and limiting transitions, it is vital Liverpool sign players who are capable of operating in tight spaces under difficult circumstances.
Werner’s offensive movement to score is also excellent, as is evidenced by his 28 goals this season, and he has a clear understanding of offensive positioning and movement to create space for himself in the area. We can see here, with the ball having been played into a wide area and a cross inbound, Werner initially makes a darting run towards goal and gets goalside of Davinson Sanchez, which causes the defender to drop further towards his own goal to defend it.
Once Sanchez makes this decision and tries to get goalside of Werner, the German stops his movement, shifting his weight backwards while Sanchez is still accelerating forwards.
This creates separation between Werner and the defender, giving him time and space to shoot, with Sanchez outstretched leg just blocking a goal-bound shot in the end.
So that’s the player, but how would he fit in at Liverpool?
To answer this question, we’ve got to first consider Liverpool’s current system. Liverpool play a 4-3-3, with the differences week to week being the role of each midfielder. This diagram below shows Liverpool’s usual build-up structure. One midfielder drops deep between the centre back and full-back, effectively taking up the role of a narrow full-back. This creates space in the wide areas for the full-back to push onto, as any opposition winger now has to go and press the central midfielder if they want to win the ball back, as we can see below. In an ideal situation, this then creates a 2v1 on the opposition full-back, with the inside forwards occupying the half-spaces.
In a game where the opposition is expected to sit deeper, Liverpool will often line up with either Naby Keïta or Alex Oxlade Chamberlain in the starting eleven, with these two players often taking a more advanced role. The role of dropping into the full-back area and progressing play is often left down to Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson (or this season it certainly has been with Fabinho’s injury).
As a result, Liverpool often end up in a 4-2-3-1 type shape like we can see below. Wijnaldum is out wide in the deeper full-back area, while Jordan Henderson sits slightly deeper. Robertson joins the forward line, and Oxlade Chamberlain makes a run between the lines into an almost number ten area. As a result, I’m automatically thinking Timo Werner or Roberto Firmino could play this role, or even any of the front three if done with fluidity as it often is, as Firmino and Werner in particulalry have the skill set to receive by making intelligent movements, and then threading smart passes towards attackers. If you have Firmino in deeper areas playing passes in behind, you then have a front three of Salah, Mané and Werner, all of which I’m confident can reach any pass in behind and can create space if it is restricted.
The 4-2-3-1 that people outright call a 4-2-3-1, isn’t anything new to Liverpool or Klopp, with it being used multiple times throughout Klopp’s tenure and with it being Klopp’s preferred shape at Dortmund. We can see here Liverpool playing a 4-2-3-1 against Everton this season, with Wijnaldum and Milner as the double pivots.
However, in games where space has been limited, we have seen some weaknesses in terms of the space occupation and technical ability of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Naby Keïta (who I’m still hoping is going to show what he is capable of). If Liverpool were to add Werner, I would expect this space occupation, creativity and quality in the final third to increase, and Liverpool’s now front four would become more fluid and interchange positions to create space. We can see a simple illustration of Liverpool’s potential shape below, with Werner and Firmino rotating within an attack in order to create space and progress the ball. As we have seen throughout this analysis, Werner is capable of playing either of the roles seen in this diagram.
Timo Werner is an excellent presser of the ball and his pace allows him to counter-press effectively, but with this slight change in personnel Liverpool’s counter-pressing could be upset if players don’t understand their roles within the structure.
In line with their offensive structure, here is Liverpool’s usual counter-pressing structure, with the deeper pairing of Wijnaldum and Henderson remaining behind the ball and in line with it at all times, in order to counter-press immediately should the ball be lost.
But with Oxlade Chamberlain a traditional midfielder, you would expect him to generally provide more cover than Firmino or Werner would, and so Firmino would have to be coached to ensure Liverpool get this right. Luckily both players, particularly Firmino, have a trait in possession which will allow him to aid Liverpool out of possession.
Both players are happy to receive in areas with little space, or areas where other teamates are also operating nearby. In terms of counter-pressing, this is massively beneficial, as if you can play as narrow as possible as a team while still being effective offensively, you can snuff out any counter-attacks as we can see below. Therefore Liverpool will be looking to try and maintain this kind of shape below.
This shape therefore means that if the ball is lost, Liverpool are able to counter-press from a variety of directions and with all players in close proximity to the ball. If Liverpool’s front four was to remain as fluid as it is in a three, the rotations between Werner and Firmino would have to be intelligent in order to prevent this kind of shape being lost. However, as I’ve mentioned, I think both players are intelligent enough to get this right.
Overall, I believe Timo Werner would be an excellent signing for Liverpool and would be a player that would fit within Liverpool’s system with some slight alterations. Within this article, I’ve mentioned his key strengths with regards to Liverpool’s system, but it shouldn’t also be forgotten that his finishing abilities are one of his key assets, and so when you add that on top of everything else mentioned, you can see why Liverpool are interested. Werner would of course help in terms of depth, but if he was to join I would expect he has a guarantee of starting matches, and so the Liverpool midfielders game time would likely decrease. A midfield two now would pose a dilemma for Klopp between Henderson, Wijnaldum and Fabinho as well as the other more offensive midfielders, but these dilemmas are good ones.