Ever since the Premier League season ended, all eyes in the football world have been focused on Liverpool to see how the Premier League Champions strengthen their squad to mount a defence of the title in the next season. The left back position has been a key area to be strengthened since there has been little cover for Andy Robertson in that position. The ever-reliable James Milner has covered for him, but he is hardly a like-to-like replacement for Robertson in that position.
While the media were well aware of the possibility that Liverpool could be in the market for a left-back, they were focusing on targets such as Norwich’s Jamal Lewis. With the public focus on the over-priced deal that was being offered by the relegated Canaries, Michael Edwards did his usual silent deal making, and Liverpool signed Kostas Tsimikas on August 10 from Olympiacos for just £11.7 million on a five-year contract.
The trigger for the Reds to pen the deal with the Greeks might have been the hard bargain that Norwich were trying to drive for Lewis. But Liverpool have apparently been checking Tsimikas out since the end of 2018. Jurgen Klopp said as much when the news broke. Klopp’s comments – “We have watched Kostas for a long time and are really happy that he has joined us. It’s the perfect news before we come back together very soon…He is a very good footballer with an attitude to win and to compete, and I really like his mentality. It fits perfectly with the mood and the desire we have in our dressing room already…Kostas knows from personal experience what is required to challenge and succeed domestically and in the Champions League, and he is ambitious for more – just like us.”, indicate that he is quite enthusiastic about Liverpool’s first signing of the transfer window.
However, let us examine Jurgen Klopp’s assertion that Tsimikas is a perfect fit for Liverpool. Indeed the Greek international’s Champions League exposure might have been a crucial factor in the Reds selecting him over the other options but as a player, how well would he fit Klopp’s system? To answer that, we will need to compare him with the left-back who indeed fits Klopp’s system perfectly.
Tsimikas – Robertson Comparison
If one were to describe Andy Robertson’s playing style, they might say that he does not let up easily. Whether it is his runs wide to the touchline or into the opponents’ penalty area; Or whether it is his ability to run back and make crucial interventions (sometimes errors), one key characteristic of Robertson’s gameplay is his tenacity. In fact, “tenacious” is exactly how FM DB (Football Manager’s player database) describes Robertson.
The same database calls Tsimikas “tireless”. While the two words are not exact synonyms but in terms of football, they could be used interchangeably. There are other similarities as well. Tsimikas is 24 years old and 175 cms tall to the 26-year old Robertson’s 178 cm. Both are comfortable playing with their left feet only and both are accustomed to playing as wing-backs, higher up on the flanks. As per FM DB, both of them get forward whenever possible.
In terms of mental attributes, we can see that the two players are fairly similar, although Robertson is slightly better on most counts. For a left wing-back in Klopp’s system, perhaps the most important attributes are Aggression, Anticipation, Bravery, Positioning, Vision and Work Rate. The two players are well-matched in these, although Tsimikas lags a little in all. However, it is understandable since he is going to be an understudy or a backup to Robertson.
However, one key attribute where Tsimikas needs improvement is Leadership – “How inspirational and motivational is a player to his teammates”. While Robertson can get the team and the crowd to look up (even if means smacking Messi on the head), Tsimikas seems that he needs to build on this.
In terms of physical attributes as well, it is the same. The two players are very well-matched, with Robertson having a slight edge in a few of them.
It becomes a bit clearer when we look at the technical attributes as to why Klopp might have considered Tsimikas to be a value add to the squad. It is in this department that Tsimikas seems to be slightly better than Robertson in several categories. He is rated better than the Scotsman at dribbling, finishing, free kicks, long shots, and corners.
In short, based on FM DB’s attributes, the two players look very similar. But it would not be a fair comparison of the two players, just to evaluate their attributes. What have they achieved with those attributes over the past season? How have they helped their teams win their respective leagues so comprehensively? In short, what do their stats say?
For both Robertson and Tsimikas, their primary role in the team is defending. And they were pretty similar over the previous season in all competitions for their teams in 2019-20. In terms of defensive tackles won (3.13 – 3.80), interceptions (4.56 – 4.9), and clearances (1.9 – 2.1) per 90 minutes, Robertson lagged the Greek slightly. Even in terms of possession losses in own half (3.20 – 3.55), the two players are similar. However, Robertson’s training under Klopp shines through in the possession recoveries in the opponents’ half (3.52 – 1.96), where he makes almost 1.5 more recoveries through his tenacious pressing.
In terms of their passing stats, Robertson provided more accurate passes per game (55.78 – 29.02) than Tsimikas. But Tsimikas was slightly better at crosses, providing 1.68 accurate crosses per 90 minutes, to Robertson’s 1.35. Robertson’s switches to Trent Alexander Arnold and Salah also shine through the stat of accurate long passes which he provided almost twice that of Tsimikas (3.39 – 1.7). Robertson also had more accurate passes into the final third (6.4- 2.6) and more accurate passes into the penalty area (2.02 – 1.78).
Finally, in terms of attacking Robertson shoots twice that of Tsimikas (0.64 shots per 90 mins to 0.32). But their xG per 90 are not that different (0.05 – 0.02). The Greek did not score any goals this season for Olympiacos. However, Robertson did score some brilliant goals for Liverpool this season.
While Tsimikas might not be an exact replica of Robertson, that might not be a bad thing either. Most of the differences in the two players could be due to the different systems that they have been playing under. However, at an attribute level, they seem to have a lot in common. So, although one might differ with Klopp and say Tsimikas is not a perfect fit. But he is surely a pretty good fit for Liverpool and how he fares with the Reds will also depend a lot on how he is transformed under the German’s tutelage.