The transfer window is a time for expectation. Fans of every club all over the top leagues of Europe are expecting that new managers and new players will arrive this summer to take their clubs out of their current misery, winless runs or to even greater heights.
In the Premier League, fans of Watford and Crystal Palace are expecting new managers to come in and build on their successful struggle against relegation. Manchester United and City fans expect new star players to join their already star-studded lineups to make them even bigger contenders for next season’s league and Champions League titles. After the confirmation of Arsene Wenger’s stay, Gunner fans must be expecting a bit of player rotation in the squad and perhaps some loosening of Arsenal’s purse strings. At Liverpool, the expectations are a bit stronger as the fans expect Klopp to prepare for their Champions League campaign by bringing in some proven talents from across Europe.
Some of these clubs have already started meeting their fans’ expectations – Manchester City have brought in Bernardo Silva from Monaco. So, when it was announced on May 30 that Liverpool will sign 19-year old striker Dominic Solanke from Chelsea after his contract runs out at the end of June, the fans were a bit underwhelmed.
The Reds’ fans are expecting big name signings across several positions – from Alexander Lacazette and Mohamed Salah in attack to Naby Keita in the midfield to Virgil van Dijk in defence. In this expectant atmosphere, when the news arrived that Liverpool were signing someone who was frozen out of the Chelsea first XI and also played very infrequently for the Blues’ U-23 side, the response was expectedly lukewarm. The fans want big money signings, while the club are landing a 19-year old on a free (almost), and someone who did not have a single senior appearance in 2016-17.
So, what did the Reds see in the youngster? Let us take a look at some of his stats and some respectable opinions about the player to see the Reds’ rationale behind signing him.
When Solanke was 2 months short of his 17th birthday, in July 2014, none other than the Special One had said that Mourinho would blame himself if Solanke did not become an England international under his management. The youngster had just scored 20 goals in 25 games for the Chelsea under-18s in the 2013-14 season and also won the FA Youth Cup in the process.
Mourinho indeed gave him an opportunity when he named him on the bench in the 2014-15 season for a Premier League game against Crystal Palace and then brought him on in a Champions League tie in the 73rd minute against NK Maribor. This made Solanke the youngest Chelsea player to debut in Champions League. At youth level, he kept on scoring at a fairly astonishing rate, with 41 goals in the 2014-15 season, winning both the UEFA Youth League as well as FA Youth Cup in the process. Later in 2015, Solanke scored for Chelsea in a post-season friendly versus Thailand All Stars, his first senior goal.
2015-16 saw Solanke graduate to the senior level, albeit in a different league and for a different team. He spent the season at the Dutch club Vitesse scoring 7 goals in 25 appearances for them. One quirk of his performance in Eredivisie was that he scored more goals as a substitute than as a starter, although he made only 4 substitute appearances.
In April 2016, he could not conclude contract negotiations with his parent club, possibly due to wage demands. In the 2016-17 season, he rejected several loan offers and was retained as a third striker behind Costa and Batshuayi at Chelsea. But effectively he was frozen out of the first team and played a handful of under-23 matches. The impasse over contract talks continued into the second half of the just concluded season and he ended up signing for Liverpool on May 30.
Solanke is a forward who can play as a striker and an advanced midfielder and if required as a winger as well. Wyscout reports that he is fairly active on the pitch being involved in 74.8 events per 90 minutes. For a striker, he is a bit miserly in shooting as he shoots only twice per 90 minutes, with 0.74 shots on target per 90 minutes.
Aerially, he wins 3.2 aerial duels per 90 minutes and in general he wins close to 7 attacking duels per 90 minutes. He is good at dribbling as well, winning 3.5 1vs1 dribbles every 90 minutes.
He is not a great crosser – crossing about 1.2 times per 90 minutes but with an accuracy of 27%, which means he gets one cross on target in three games. His passing is not very frequent (only 15 passes per 90 minutes) but is 90% accurate.
In terms of ball retention Solanke is great, as he rarely gives away the ball – a trait praised by former Chelsea striker Tore Andre Flo two years ago. He is also fairly active in retrieving the ball back, scoring one ball recovery every game.
This data is from the recent international matches that he has played at under- 19, 20 and 21 levels recently. For all his youth level goals, his recent international performances and his season in Eredivisie tell us that he is average in shooting and creation, and he has good involvement stats, especially aerially.
The Club’s Requirement
Liverpool need a striker – they need someone to ensure that the goals do not dry up when Sadio Mane is unavailable, when Sturridge is injured (assuming he stays), and when the Brazilians and Origi are off the boil. Either that, or they need a proven 20-30 goals per season striker like Lacazette.
Solanke does not fit that latter requirement but could he fit the first requirement. To fit as a fall-back option at Liverpool, he needs to be quite far down in the pecking order, a fact that might trouble him, given lack of first team football could have been one of the reasons for his contract impasse at Chelsea. At best, Solanke can expect to play in the domestic cups for Liverpool and then mostly in the under-23 team.
It is also possible that Liverpool have signed him as someone to be developed and sold on – he will cost Liverpool only £2-3 million and if he is developed well, he could be sold for a higher fee. Whatever reasons the Reds’ management signed him for, one thing is clear – he is not the striker that the fans have been waiting for. They can still be hopeful that the club will go for a more proven forward.
Either that or they can hope that Sturridge will finally get to play an entire season with Klopp.