It’s been a quiet 24 months on the transfer front for Liverpool. Following the Big Splurge of 2018, a year that saw the club spend over £200m on Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker, Naby Keïta and Fabinho across two transfer windows—largely funded by the sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona—the biggest incoming move at Anfield has been Takumi Minamino’s £7m transfer this past January.
The same-24-month window has been spectacular performance-wise, of course, with the Reds bringing four major titles to Anfield, and the focus on a smaller, cohesive squad has proven a huge success. But a combination of established players moving on—Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana have already left the club—and the realisation that some players will likely require more rotation than they’ve been afforded in the past couple of years, has lead to a general consensus that Mikey Edwards will have to dip his toe back into the market this summer.
Yesterday, then—following a few days of publicly haggling with Norwich over Jamal Lewis’ price tag—the Reds announced their first signing of the offseason, Olympiacos full-back Kostas Tsimikas. Below, we dig into what the 24-year-old will bring to the table as he looks to make an impact at Anfield.
DOB: 12/5/96 (24 years old) | Height: 5’10” (178cm)
2019/20 season: 46 appearances
0 goals | 7 assists
Strengths: As one would expect for a player brought in to back up Andrew Robertson—perhaps the premier overlapping left back on the planet over the past two years—Tsimikas loves to get forward. An assist every 6.5 games isn’t quite at the level of Liverpool’s prolific pair of Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, both of whom have hit double digits in consecutive seasons, but along with his tendency to try to carry the ball forward like Liverpool’s fullbacks, it suggests the 24-year old does fit the preferred profile.
Compared to his Scottish counterpart, Tsimikas doesn’t generate quite the same whip on his deliveries, but his crosses have wonderful shape and accuracy to them. While most crosses find a teammate about 20% of the time, the Reds’ new signing boasts 24% accuracy, while 12.7% of his crosses lead to a shot—exactly the sort of production the man ahead of him in the pecking order manages. Whether his current selection of cutbacks and softer, swerved crosses to the back post will be as effective as Robertson’s more driven deliveries remains to be seen, though, but perhaps the Melwood coaching team will be able to develop Kostas’ ability to whip in more aggressive crosses.
For Olympiacos, Tsimikas was the main ball carrier out of the backfield, generating 156 yards of progressive running on average, a number that would put him fifth on the Liverpool squad, behind Naby Keïta, Robertson, Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez. Good close control and deceptive feet makes the Greek international an effective dribbler for a fullback, and his 1.7 dribbles per 90 minutes and 70% success rate are well ahead of both Robertson and Alexander-Arnold.
Similarly, Tsimikas generated more progressive passes than any other Olympiacos player this season, and while his total volume in this metric is only around half of what would be expected of him in Liverpool red, his ability to generate these important passes in the final two thirds of the field—along with his overall and long passing accuracy—indicates that his passing is not far behind that of his future teammates. The 24-year-old is no stranger to the lateral switch, either—a central feature of Liverpool’s game—and is more than comfortable smacking the ball the width of the pitch if the opportunity arises.
Defensively, Tsimikas is a bit of a stud. Although his hip positioning is somewhat inconsistent in this writer’s eyes—a tendency that, similar to Joe Gomez, can make it difficult to adjust to athletic attackers running at him—it is hard to argue with the results: 5.44 successful tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes combined with a tackling success rate of 72%. That’s far superior to Trent or Robbo, and, in fact, better than any PL fullback not named Aaron Wan-Bissaka—an indication that the player’s elected style of man defending, staying tight on his opposite number and nipping in at the opportune moment, is working. His display against Adama Traoré in last week’s Europa League clash should provide encouraging signs for those doubting his pedigree in this regard.
Weaknesses: As always when obtaining a player from an inferior league, there will be questions about the player’s ability to take the step up. The Superlague Greece is ranked 18th in Europe, and Olympiacos has won it in 20 of the past 24 years, so extrapolating performances can be tricky. We have chosen to use numbers from the Champions League and Europa League—competitions in which Olympiacos are far, far less likely to dominate—above, in order to mitigate the potential impact of this, but simply as a result of the step up in quality of opposition, there is little doubt that Tsimikas will have to improve if he’s going to challenge Robertson for minutes.
On a related note, having turned 24 this year, it is unlikely that the Thessalonican will be making massive changes to his game. Sure, a step up as a consequence of training in a superlative environment on a daily basis is almost unavoidable, but Tsimikas as we see him today is likely close to his final form, and should he struggle to find a role in his first season, it could be that he will never push Robertson for minutes.
Finally, Tsimikas appears an unexceptional athlete. While he possesses adequate small-space quickness and very rarely gets bullied off the ball, his high hips prevent him from being particularly explosive out of a stance, and his straight-line speed leaves something to be desired.
Summary: Having passed on Jamal Lewis, Liverpool acquired their second choice backup left back, a player they were linked with as early as April this year, for a relative pittance. By all accounts, Tsimikas should already be good enough to adequately deputise for Andrew Robertson as an attacking full-back, extending the Scotsman’s career at the top level by mitigating mileage, while potentially offering genuine competition for minutes should he prove to have further improvements in his locker.
Furthermore, the Reds now have four specialist fullbacks in their senior squad for the first time in what feels like decades, plugging a persistent hole in their squad depth, all for the low, low price of one departing Dejan Lovren. It seems likely that sell-one-to-buy-one will remain the order of this transfer window, and that centre-back and wide attacker cover will only be added in the event of a sale or two—probably in the shape of Harry Wilson and/or Marko Grujic—but at least they are making moves, and that should encourage everyone who wants to see them retain their title next season.