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The Statistical Case for Harry Wilson’s Liverpool Career

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It looks set to be a crucial week for the Welshman’s prospects in red.

Liverpool v Olympique Lyonnais - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Pre-season is now officially over, with Sunday’s Community Shield clash with reigning champions Manchester City — whether you care about the competition or not — marking the beginning of competitive fixtures in England.

For the Reds, it’s been a short summer, for a number of reasons; competing in the final fixture of last year’s campaign — the Champions League final in Madrid — and players participating in a number of international contests, including the Copa America — which Alisson Becker and Roberto Firmino won — and the African Cup of Nations, in which Sadio Mané suffered heartbreak in the final.

2019 also stands out in that the transfer window will shut only four days later, on August 8th, rather than its customary endpoint of September 1st. As such, all transfer business must be concluded only a week from now, and despite committing very few moves in this year’s market, Jürgen Klopp still has some decisions to make.

One of those is the future of Harry Wilson. The 22-year old has been with the club for 14 years, and after climbing the ranks of the youth system and carving out a role as a starter on loan at Derby last season, it appears the time has come to make a final decision on whether his future lies at Anfield or elsewhere, with the club reportedly mooting the idea of another temporary deal.

So. Is he good enough? Based on performances in pre-season, it is difficult to be certain. As was the case for most of Reds this summer, Wilson’s performances were uneven. Two goals — one after a slick dummy from Ryan Kent sent him through against Dortmund, and one trademark belter from range against Lyon — certainly isn’t to be sniffed at, particularly considering the opposition, but at other times, the Welshman has looked out of place in a line-up that has admittedly missed the side’s most talented attackers.

Statistically, we have about a season and a half of Harry Wilson to go on. As a blanket statement for all that is about to come, this is a small data set — about half of what this writer would normally prefer — increasing the chances of statistical variance playing a role, but it is what we have to work with it.

With regard to production, 23 goals and 7 assists certainly isn’t a bad return in that time frame, and a goal or assist every 165 minutes would be considered excellent return for a squad player should he be able to maintain it. A shot or shot assist every 21 minutes, or 4.3 per 90, is also just about the range where attackers who convert at an average rate can generate a goal or assist every two games. Wilson’s key passes are converted at roughly an average rate, 9.7%, while he finishes his own at an above average 14.6%.

This brings us to the former Derby loanee’s perhaps most obvious strength, his long range shooting. At a 10.4% conversion rate from outside the box, Wilson scores about twice as often as the average player when lining up a shot from range. Counting his two free kick goals in the cups last year, the Welshman has now scored 11 goals from outside the box in a season and a half, a stellar return.

At Derby, former king of the deflected long range effort, Frank Lampard, had clearly instructed Wilson to shoot on sight, and the 22-year old amassed 76 strikes from range in the league, more than any other player.

At Liverpool, Salah lead that statistic with 42, followed by Trent Alexander-Arnold in second place with 22 — both players scored one of their efforts — indicating both that Wilson offers a threat that has been missing from this Liverpool side, and perhaps also that his approach would be an uncomfortable fit with Jürgen Klopp’s preference for working the ball into the area in order to create higher probability chances.

Before moving on, it is worth noting that while he took nearly 70% of his shots at Derby from outside the box, that number was 40% during his loan spell at Hull, showing that he can adjust his style based on the preferences of his team and manager.

What else does Wilson do? A chance and a half created per 90 minutes is on the low end for a non-striker attacker, and 25% of his shot assists come from set pieces, which he may or may not get to take at Liverpool, who already possess several excellent free kick and corner takers.

Despite quick and nimble feet, Wilson lacks genuine pace, and his slight frame and underdeveloped first step means that he rarely goes past defenders with the ball at his feet, averaging only 0.9 successful dribbles per 90 minutes, at a success rate of 45%. Without the ball, the boyhood Reds fan is an enthusiastic worker, and has notched 2.1 ball recoveries per 90 minutes for his two Championship sides, more than any of Liverpool’s current front three.

Is any of that good enough? Only Klopp knows, but this writer sees clear parallels with a current player in the Liverpool set-up, which may or may not give you and indication of how Wilson fits in. Xherdan Shaqiri created 4.1 shots or shot assists last season. In his Premier League career, he takes 61.5% of his shots from range, to Wilson’s 63.5%, and converts 9.8% of them, to Wilson’s 10.4%. 30% of his chances are generated from set-pieces. Last season, he completed 0.8 dribbles per 90 minutes, at a 38% success rate, and won the ball for his side 1.7x per game.

Harry Wilson is skinny Xherdan Shaqiri, is what I’m saying.

Clearly, there are caveats here. The data set is, again, very small. Harry Wilson played in the Championship for a side that placed 6th, while Shaqiri’s numbers have been generated over a number of seasons against Premier League opposition for a terrible Stoke side and a very good Liverpool. And, perhaps most importantly, despite an explosive start to the season and couple of incredibly cathartic moments, Shaqiri was a very odd fit for Klopp’s Reds, often forcing the manager to adjust his formation to accommodate the Swiss.

Are Liverpool going to keep Harry Wilson? We’ll find out in a week. Will their decision be the correct one? We may never know. Here, though, are some statistical factoids to chew on while you make up your own mind.