Nerdy by Nature – Transfer Edition – Ismaila Sarr

As you can see in Jordan’s piece earlier this week, there are rumors about Ismaila Sarr coming to Liverpool. This is fueled by a couple of things: first, he and Sadio Mane are good buddies; and second, Watford have been relegated.  The resulting loss of income for the club next season will be huge – even with parachute payments.  The club will likely need to sell some people to make that up, and Sarr is the most intriguing of the options. So let’s gets nerdy, shall we…

As we look at Sarr’s stat “radar,” we can see a view of where Sarr ranks relative to his peers in the attacking midfielder or winger positions across the top five European leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy, France). The numbers indicate in which percentile he ranks for each category, so this is helpful to see at what he excels and struggles on the pitch. Let’s look deeper at a few of these categories:

Dribbling
Dribbles statistics are an interesting place to start. First, the good news: Sarr averages 2.3 successful dribbles per game, which puts him in the 70th percentile of all attacking midfielders/wingers (meaning he achieved more successful dribbles than 70% of all others in these positions). That is not bad. He is getting the ball out wide and carrying it down the field quickly. On a team such as Watford where offensive output is scarce, this has a major impact. Usually teams that depend on their wingers for a majority of offense are not great… unless you’re Liverpool. Sarr dribbling down the field and moving the ball quickly would be very helpful, especially with a stud like Trent Alexander-Arnold right next to him. 2.3 dribbles a game could be nice to have down that wing.

The concern though is his percentage of success:  Sarr’s only in the 26th percentile in dribble success percentage. That is not good. He is attempting almost five dribbles per game, with a 51.5% success rate. While this is not a bad start, it means he could also be easily defended and potentially be wasteful in possession. In comparison, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are 60.8% and 61.2% successful at dribbles, respectively, and both of them are in the 60-70th percentile (compared to the much lower Sarr). His dribbling might be helpful, but he needs time to develop this, perhaps as a backup.

Non-Penalty xG and xG/Shot
This is a place where he has excelled, both in the Premier League and at Rennes during the prior season.  He ranks at the 82nd percentile for non-penalty xG/Shot, which is not quite world class – but it is awfully close.  This tells us is that Sarr does not make a lot of wasteful shots – he is getting into good scoring positions and making high-quality attempts on goal. This would be extremely beneficial for a team like Liverpool. If Sarr could regularly get into good positions, I have faith that we could supply him with good chances – especially with the passing quality of our front three, Jordan Henderson, and our full backs. What is more impressive is that he is able to get into those positions for Watford. Without the same type of service as he would receive as if her were at Liverpool, one would expect much of that is a result of his individual brilliance and smart decision-making.

In addition to the xG/shot ratio, his actual non-penalty xG is excellent. At 0.26 xG per 90 minutes, he is expected to average a little over a goal ever four games. Across a season, that is a 10-12 goal output. What would that mean at a place like Liverpool? He would likely only be a replacement / backup / rotation player for the first couple of seasons.  However, he would always be on the pitch with at least a few players who are better than what he was used to at Watford. Every time – even in a rotated team – he would have better talent around him, which leads me to believe his xG would only increase.

Successful Pressures
Unfortunately, this is a place where Sarr would absolutely have to improve. Salah is worse of Liverpool’s two wide forwards, but he is still in the 60th percentile at pressuring… and Mane is even better. How much of Sarr’s stats is a result of Watford’s system, which does not do much pressuring? And if a player is bad at pressuring, can you think of a better coach to coach him up than Jurgen Klopp? While this a concern, it is not a major one for me – there is much opportunity for improvement.

Pass Completion %
This is the biggest red flag for me:  Sarr averages 73.4% pass completion. In comparison, Mane averages 78.4%, and Salah averages 74.7%. I can forgive Salah, because he is possibly the best wing scorer in the planet: he will occasionally take some crazy attempt to pass to Mane or Firmino that may go awry, but you forgive him quickly because he is averaging 22 goals a year over the past three Premier League seasons. Mane has become an excellent passer over his time at Liverpool, so much so that at times he was used as a playmaker in the number role 10 for Senegal. To me, this is a place that Sarr would need to improve. Again, having Trent handle the majority of the passing from this side of the field could work, but a higher pass completion % for Sarr is a must.

Overall Assessment
As always, everything comes down to price. Transfermarkt has his value at €24.5 million.  Transfermarkt tends to be a fair value, but teams like Liverpool will pay a bit more when necessary.  If he’s going to cost €70 million, the vlub would likely pass and never look back. However, if Sarr can be bought for €30-35 million range, I believe he would be an excellent rotational piece for Liverpool. If Liverpool are trying to win four different competitions next season, they will need depth, and Sarr could be an excellent addition to the team. So far, he is pretty much only played on the right sid of the pitch, but I believe Klopp could work with him to expand his versatility.  And with the fluidity of the starting three being able to play in multiple positions across the front, having Sarr only be available on the right would not be the worst thing.

In this figure, Sarr’s radar (color) has been overlaid with Mane’s (black outline). The general outlay is similar. While Mane’s stats are almost unanimously better, but he is older and more experienced. Could Sarr develop into a player as good as Mane? That is not something we can predict, but his numbers show that he is a similar player, and in my opinion, a coach like Klopp could really get the best out of him.

What do you think?

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