Liverpool would need to break the bank to sign Jude Bellingham. One transfer alternative has similarly impressive statistics, and would come far cheaper.
“No playmaker in the world can be as good as a good counter-pressing situation.”
A quote from Jürgen Klopp’s early days at Liverpool, nothing quite encapsulates the German’s philosophy so neatly. While the manager has undoubtedly adapted his style since then, the fundamentals remain the same. Although a transfer move for Jude Bellingham in the summer would be hugely exciting, there is a similar player who meets this criterion even more emphatically.
Bellingham, for his part, is an eager presser from midfield. He averages 22.56 pressures per 90, placing him in the 82nd percentile of midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues. That’s just a shade under what Naby Keïta produces, slightly higher than Thiago and significantly clear of Jordan Henderson.
Of course, it is not just the pressing that is exciting about Bellingham. At just 18 years old, he is in the 92nd percentile for non-penalty goals and the 98th percentile for assists. His dribbles completed place him in similarly world-class territory. In short, he is already an elite all-action midfielder.
However, that’s exactly why Borussia Dortmund could ask for £100m or more. Liverpool may ultimately weigh up the pros and cons and decide that the transfer represents a reasonable investment, given that Bellingham is still so young. That being said, there is a player who is matching or beating him in multiple key departments, and he could almost certainly be signed for less than a tenth of the price.
The name Adrien Thomasson will not be familiar to many Liverpool fans, but he is listed by FBRef as the most statistically similar player to Bellingham throughout Europe. It is not hard to see why. The Ligue 1 midfielder scores at an even better rate than Bellingham; his actual goal return places him in the 96th percentile, with his expected goals in the 99th percentile. His expected assists also place him above his Borussia Dortmund counterpart.
Also a prolific dribbler, Thomasson ranks in the 85th percentile across Europe for dribbles completed — lower than Bellingham but still very impressive. The only on-the-ball area where he really falls down is pass completion rate, but to some extent this comes with the territory when discussing high-risk midfielders. The Dortmund starlet is also statistically unremarkable in this department.
Where things get even more interesting for Liverpool is the pressing numbers. Not only does Thomasson press more than Bellingham, he presses more than any midfielder in Europe’s top five leagues, averaging 29.12 pressures per 90 over the last year. That’s a pressure almost every three minutes.
Harking back to the Klopp quote, it’s perhaps little wonder that Thomasson finds himself at the heart of scoring and assisting situations so often. He regularly emerges with the ball in the most high-percentage positions possible. This season, the best example came against ESTAC Troyes, where his turnover on the edge of the box led almost immediately to a goal. A little over eight of his pressures per game occur in the final third, compared to 5.71 for Bellingham.
All of this has come at Strasbourg, a club whose record transfer sale price is £12.4m. Even with the side currently occupying rarified air up in fifth place, Liverpool would be confident they could get Thomasson for a very reasonable fee.
Even if the leap proved too great for him to become a regular starter, he would offer exceptional versatility to the squad; he has already played as a central midfielder, right midfielder and briefly as a centre-forward this season (only one game, so it hasn’t skewed the stats), and over the course of his career has also turned out as a left-winger, shadow striker and defensive midfielder.
Naturally, the thing with Bellingham is that Liverpool would be buying potential as well as current ability. The most remarkable thing about the Borussia Dortmund star is that he is still a teenager. Thomasson, by contrast, recently turned 28. However, this need not be a negative. It would place the Frenchman in an ideal role to bridge the gap between youngsters like Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones and experienced stars like Thiago, Henderson and James Milner — an especially important squad function if Keïta or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain move on.
If Liverpool only signed Thomasson come the summer transfer window, it would be a disappointment. FSG need to continue their rebuild for the future, and Bellingham would be one name that fits the bill nicely. But if the budget doesn’t stretch that far in midfield, the club may have an ideal alternative — coupled with further additions, he could be a great bargain buy.
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