Football Features

Klopp’s track record signing full-backs may shed light on why Liverpool switched to Tsimikas

By CJ Smith

Published: 18:59, 10 August 2020

Liverpool have made their first foray into the summer transfer market with the signing of Olympiacos full-back Kostas Tsimikas.

The Reds were initially chasing Norwich City’s Jamal Lewis but chose to go no higher than their initial bid of £10m for the Northern Ireland international, which was turned down. Liverpool were willing to pay £12m, according to a BBC report, but the Canaries wanted “significantly more” than that.

Who is Kostas Tsimikas? Good-to-know stats and facts…

  • Age: 24 | Position: Left-back | Nationality: Greek | Height: 5ft1o
  • Career path: Olympiacos Youth (2014 – 2015) > Olympiacos (2015-2017) > Esberg, loan (2017) > Willem II, loan (2018) > Olympiacos (2018 – )
  • Alphonso Davies (19) and Nélson Semedo (16) are the only defenders to complete more take-ons than Tsimikas (14) in the 2019/20 Champions League.
  • Marcelo and Reece James are the only defenders to average more successful crosses (including corners) per 90 minutes of Champions League football than Tsikimkas (2.2) this season, excluding those who played fewer than three games.
  • He won the March 2018 Eredivisie Rookie of the Month award while playing for Willem II, where former Reds midfielder Pedro Chirivella was his teammate.
  • His surname is pronounced si-mee-kas.

Although relegated with Norwich, Lewis impressed throughout the 2019/20 Premier League campaign. He provided the second-highest number of successful open-play crosses (10) among Daniel Farke’s squad while helping enable their progressive style of play with his athleticism and forward-thinking, and proving himself defensively capable with 51 tackles. Only Emi Buendia (82) managed more among Norwich players.

“Jamal has almost been overshadowed sometimes because of Max [Aarons], Tom [Cantwell] and Ben [Godfrey],” former Norwich captain Adam Drury told The Athletic of Lewis’ potential back in August 2019.

“He’s almost taken for granted and that’s harsh on him. He’s been outstanding and progressed brilliantly, going into the side as such a youngster.

“I remember speaking to Matt Gill and Darren Huckerby in the academy and they just said his running power is something else, plus he’s got the ability to go with it.”

And yet now it looks like he won’t be joining Liverpool, who turned elsewhere before negotiations with Norwich ever really started.

It’s an uncompromising approach (and you have to feel for Lewis), but we might have seen coming. Where Pep Guardiola has spent nearly £200m on full-backs since joining Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp has never demonstrated a great appetite to spend big in this position.

He has broken various transfer records at Liverpool but over the course of his entire managerial career, Klopp has only ever permanently signed two full-backs for more than a five-figure sum. Andy Robertson is the most recent, and expensive, example. The other is Dortmund cult hero Patrick Owomoyela, who was signed for £2m from Werder Bremen in 2008.

In Germany, Klopp played huge role in the development of full-backs Marcel Schmelzer, a member of Dortmund’s back-to-back league-winners, and Erik Durm, who has forged a career for himself across the Bundesliga, Premier League and German national team.

But of course Robertson and right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold are his biggest success stories. The Liverpool duo have established themselves as arguably the best full-back pairing in the world right now and both have testified to Klopp’s qualities as a coach.

“I don’t think I got many Liverpool fans excited about my signing [from relegated Hull City],” Robertson told the Liverpool site earlier this year. “The manager saw something in me that he could develop into being a decent player and I’m glad he’s done that.

“It took me time, the first three or four months was tough, but my relationship with him was the same then as it is now.

“He still looks to improve me every day in training and he still looked to make be better back then as he does now. So my relationship with him is amazing and long may that continue because he’s improved my game, he’s improved me as a person and that’s what you look for in a manager. So I couldn’t ask for much better.”

The positive sentiment is echoed by Alexander-Arnold, who said: “Without him, who knows what would have happened. He’s the one that’s given me the most opportunities, more opportunities than I could even ask for. He’s put a lot of trust and faith in me personally, and I’ve tried to repay him every time he’s done that.”

One could argue Lewis would have deprived himself of vital minutes on the pitch by moving to Liverpool. But the Reds came in at a respectable 10th in the Premier League for minutes offered to U23 players last season (3,535).

Even now, Welsh youngster Neco Williams looks to be next off the full-back production line at Anfield and Klopp hasn’t been shy in speaking of the importance of the depth he offered toward the end of the 2019/20 season, when the 19-year-old made six post-lockdown Premier League appearances.

“Thank god that Neco is now here and make big steps in training, so that we can give the boys this kind of rest. Robbo came on in the last game already and made a massive difference,” Klopp said. “It was only 45 minutes [at Brighton], pretty much, that we ‘saved’ him, so that was really good.

“And today, of course, that was really good as well. Neco is now here and we can make these kinds of decisions.”

So, why Kostas Tsimikas?

For all their frugality in the market, the fact remains that Liverpool still need another full-back to add depth. Neco Williams alone cannot cover Alexander-Arnold and Robertson, especially as Milner advances even further into his 30s.

According to widespread reports, their back-up option cost them £11.7m.

Tsimikas first appeared for the Olympiacos senior side in December 2015 but it wasn’t until the 2018/19 campaign, having spent time out on loan at Esbjerg and Willem II, that he started to seriously make waves for the Greek giants.

Tsimikas, who turned 24 in May, has made 73 appearances across all competitions for the Red-Whites over the past two seasons, lifting a Greek Super League title in the campaign just gone.

Kostas Tsimikas’ passes received and movements network from the 2019/20 UCL & UEL combined

As is the case with Lewis, this season Tsimikas has been asked to push far up in advance of his centre-backs to get involved in play further forward. He played more passes into the box than any Olympiacos teammate in the Champions League this season (28, including crosses) and created the most chances (10), the kind of output that won’t be lost on Klopp.

With Olympiacos usually adopting a high-pressing style, Tsimikas is well-versed in coordinating with and supporting those ahead of him to make sure his side’s pressure is cohesive and doesn’t leave gaps where the opposition can break.

Despite his primary focus of supporting the attack, he also produced team-high numbers in terms of both interceptions (12) and tackles (17) across his Champions League outings with Olympiacos in 2019/20, proving himself an aggressive defender. And although he’s unproven in a top-five European league, Tsimikas has shown enough in continental competition to earn three senior caps for Greece at least.

A £11.7m fee might not seem like much in today’s market, but as we noted earlier it will be the most Klopp has ever spent on a full-back. In the context of this, you would assume Liverpool have done their due diligence to make sure he’s worth every penny.