Brendan Rodgers promised to undertake his business at the club using a synthesis of new style and philosophy, whilst respecting and upholding the rich history and tradition of this remarkable club. Yesterday, he did just that.
Liverpool FC announced via their website that they had signed SC Heerenveen’s Oussama Assaidi, a signing that caught most off guard and reaffirmed Liverpool’s ability to traditionally conduct business “behind closed doors”.
Assaidi is a versatile 24-year-old winger who has agreed to sign for the club on a very modest 4 year, £20,000 per week contract. The Moroccan wide man only had 10 months remaining on his contract at the Dutch club, allowing Liverpool to sign him for a mere £2.5million. The 24-year-old rejected a move to Ajax and there was also reported interest from Fulham, Galatasaray and Spartak Moscow before Liverpool pulled off a swift coup to sign him.
Assaidi was eligible to play for the Netherlands national team, but opted to join the Morocco side having been invited to play in friendlies by current national team coach, Eric Gerets. The Moroccan has since featured 8 times and scored a single goal for the Morocco national team, with his goal coming from the right wing in an Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier against Algeria.
The fleet-footed Morocco international predominantly featured as an inverted left winger for Heerenveen in Holland’s Eredivisie, but is naturally right footed and is capable of switching flanks. Assaidi featured 91 times in the Eredivisie – for De Graafschap and SC Heerenveen – scoring 21 goals and laying on 23 assists from 56 starts.
Thus, Oussama has maintained a goal-scoring ratio in the Eredivisie of 0.23 goals per game and an assist ratio of 0.25 assists per game. In terms of his overall attacking contribution, the dynamic winger averages a goal or an assist every 0.48 games and thus is directly involved in scoring or creating a goal every 2 games.
Assaidi’s statistics aren’t remarkable, but there’s reason Rodgers kept this deal under wraps. A closer inspection of his 2011/2012 Eredivisie performances provides good reason. From 25 starts and two substitute appearances, including 13 games where he was substituted off, Assaidi returned 10 goals and 7 assists for Heerenveen. He did so at a rate of:
- A goal every 207 minutes, 0.37 goals per game and 0.26 assists per game.
However, I maintain a preference for “minutes per” metrics, rather than “per game” metrics, which are easily distorted by appearances that can range anywhere from 1 to 90 minutes and are both deemed as a “game played”. In this regard, Assaidi managed a goal every 298 minutes and an assist every 272 minutes over 3 seasons in the Eredivisie. Furthermore, Assaidi managed to score or assist a goal every 144 minutes.
Furthermore, I took the liberty of converting Assaidi’s goal scoring return into “Premier League Currency” using a discount factor developed by The Tomkins Times (TTT):
Using Uefa’s League ranking coefficient, TTT weighted goals scored in Holland’s Eredivise at 0.88 compared to those in the Premier League (which maintains a benchmark coefficient of 1). Thus, the discount rate equates Aissadi’s 21 goals in the Eredivisie to the equivalent of 18.5 goals in the Premier League. As such, had Assaidi played his 91 games in the Premier League, his returns would have equated to:
- 0.2 goals per game,
- A goal every 338.6 minutes.
Further, if Assaidi were to feature for 90 minutes in every game he played, he’d score a goal every 3.76 games (or a goal every 0.27 games – compared to 0.2 estimated).
I constructed the following table to illustrate how Assaidi performed relative to the players that Liverpool utilised as wide men last season. A starting note: I almost rid Downing from this table in mercy for both him and for the expected criticism he’ll receive via Twitter and in the comments section because of it. However, mercy led me to leave him there instead and add “mins per chance created”, which is a vital statistic of chance creativity and one that gleams a little hope for the English winger this season. Despite this data being unavailable for Assaidi, it’s important to note that Downing created a chance more often than any of our other wingers and was incredibly unlucky to have 10 clear cut chances he created missed by others. But I digress.
Having examined the table, you will notice that Oussama performs remarkably well against the Liverpool benchmark. He was only outscored by Luis Suárez last season, despite playing a naturally wider role and fewer minutes. This is reflected via the “minutes per goal” metric, whereby Assaidi led the way (230) but for Maxi Rodríguez (200), who had a completely underappreciated knack for scoring goals before his departure back home to Newell. Furthermore, Assaidi was at the front of the pack again for “minutes per assist” and “minutes per goal or assist” rates, taking 31 minutes less time to score or assist a goal than Maxi and 54 minutes less to do either than Luis Suárez last season.
Despite his evident ability to score goals from wide positions, I’d expect him to score at a lower rate in the Premier League (more so than the discount factor suggests) as a result of higher quality defending and goalkeeping, which would limit him to fewer shots per game and expose him to more pressure on the ball. This would result in fewer overall goals as his current chance conversion of 7.5% requires him to take over 13 shots before scoring a goal, which is marginally lower than Suárez (10%) and markedly lower than Maxi (24%).
Moreover, despite being largely a left sided dribbler who prefers to cut inside to favour his right foot, Assaidi still manages to deliver a cross into the box every 13 minutes, a rate beaten only by Stewart Downing (12). Whilst “accurate crossing” data is unavailable, 23 assists from 91 appearances attests to high calibre passing/ crossing on Assaidi’s part, or finishing on his teammates pass.
Note: Credit to LiverpoolKop for some of the above Assaidi statistics.
I don’t like to draw comparisons with Lionel Messi, nor do I think Oussama’s ability rivals the Argentinian’s, but there is one noticeable parallel – Assaidi’s dribbling. The Moroccan regularly dribbles with the ball down the left wing, taking on opponents before cutting inside and opening the angle of the goal face. His style resonates with Messi’s in that he has a brilliant ability to sprint with the ball at his feet, maintaining as close proximity to the ball as possible by way of countless deft touches to it. His dribbling prowess allows him to make swift decisions to change directions, switch feet and turn opponents to create space or pass opponents.
Furthermore, his ball control and trickery with his feet is Suárez-esque. Assaidi persistently turns opponents and is a constant thorn in the opposition’s backline. Playing on interchanging, yet opposite wings, Suárez and Assaidi could well and truly combine to mentally and physically tire opponents into submission, effortlessly by way of their tenacious trickery.
The forward is touted as being capably “two-footed” with the ability to shoot, pass and cross with either foot. However, Assaidi clearly favours his right foot when shooting and is a better finisher from it, with 17 of his 21 goals in the Eredivisie (81%) coming from his right boot.
Furthermore, the following diagram (from a statistical analysis of Assaidi on Paisley Gates by Twitter’s CSD) attests to the fact that the former Heerenveen forward is unrestricted in terms of which wing he’s more clinical from, or which wing he favours:
Thus, Liverpool’s new forward will be a versatile threat positioned on either wing, a vital attribute considering Borini and Suárez are also capable from either side of the pitch.
Like most of you, I was in a state of confusion when I saw that Liverpool had signed Oussama Assaidi, but on closer inspection, we have every right to trust Rodgers’ judgment. Assaidi came into his own in the Eredivisie last season and by signing him, Rodgers has reaffirmed his intention to recreate the versatile, creative and pacey 3 pronged attack that was a major success at Swansea.
Assaidi couples a degree of Suárez’s footwork with the requisite pace to turn defenders and then polishes it off with a two-footed ability to pass, cross and ultimately create and finish chances. His attacking dynamism will assist Rodgers in recreating his favoured possession cum counter attacking football and he will hopefully be a success for years to come, given his ripe age of 24.
To access these statistics for yourself, go to EPLIndex.com and get yourselves a subscription!