Could Raphinha eventually succeed Mohamed Salah at Liverpool?

By Sports Desk February 22, 2022

If Liverpool Football Club were to sign even 10 per cent of the players they get linked with, Jurgen Klopp would have a squad of around 250 players.

However, one name that seemingly refuses to go away from back-page transfer talk concerning the Reds is that of Leeds United winger Raphinha.

The Brazilian has been a sensation since arriving at Elland Road in 2020 from French side Rennes, getting the fans on their feet to marvel at the quickness of his feet.

Unfortunately for Leeds, the natural order of things often means that any club outside of the so-called 'big six' in England who unearth a star player usually end up struggling to keep hold of them for too long.

Links with Manchester United and Chelsea have also not been too far away, but ahead of Marcelo Bielsa's team heading to Anfield to take on Liverpool on Wednesday, Stats Perform looks at whether Raphinha could potentially be a future fit on Merseyside.

Small matter of Salah

If Raphinha ever finds himself dreaming of turning out at Anfield, the dream probably ends with him being chased around by a giant Mohamed Salah until he wakes up in his Billy Bremner pyjamas in a cold sweat.

It is safe to say that as long as Salah is contracted to Liverpool, he will be the main man on the right-side of their attack.

The Egyptian scored his 150th goal for the club in the 3-1 win over Norwich City on Saturday, with only Roger Hunt (226) reaching the landmark in fewer games than Salah's 233.

Salah is adored by the Kop and is showing no signs of slowing down, currently sitting way ahead in the Premier League scoring charts for this season on 17 goals, five ahead of second-placed Reds team-mate Diogo Jota.

However, questions over his future have arisen with less than 18 months remaining on his current contract.

Liverpool and Salah's representatives are in talks to extend it, but as of now, there appears to be no breakthrough in negotiations for a player who can deservedly request to be among the world's highest-paid stars.

Salah insists it is not about the money, recently saying in an interview with GQ: "I want to stay, but it's not in my hands. It's in [Liverpool's] hands. They know what I want. I'm not asking for crazy stuff.

"I've been here for my fifth year now. I know the club very well. I love the fans. The fans love me. But with the administration, they have [been] told the situation. It's in their hands."

Forward planning by planning for forwards

Liverpool are well-known for planning ahead and building for the future.

Luis Diaz's arrival from Porto had been earmarked for the summer but was moved forward to January after Tottenham made a bid for the Colombian, and now Klopp already has his succession plan in place for Sadio Mane, who is also out of contract in 2023.

Roberto Firmino's deal is another set to be up next year, but in Jota, Liverpool already have someone else for that role too, but Salah's position is still very much his own.

Harvey Elliott has shown plenty of promise, though Klopp appears to be trying to reinvent the 18-year-old as a midfielder, while big things are also expected of 17-year-old Kaide Gordon, but it would be a big ask for the former Derby County youngster to step up any time soon to fill what would be a huge void.

Klopp is reportedly a big admirer of West Ham's Jarrod Bowen, but his form this season has likely seen his price skyrocket beyond what Liverpool would be willing to pay.

Raphinha has apparently been watched by the club's scouting team since his appearances at the 2016 Copa Sao Paulo with Avai, but it was Leeds who pulled the trigger on bringing him to the Premier League after stints with Vitoria Guimaraes, Sporting CP and Rennes.

As with Diaz and Jota (and to an extent, Bowen), Liverpool waited for a player they had been watching for a long time to prove themselves at a higher level, and there is little doubt that Raphinha has managed to do so.

Impressing in the Premier League

Since arriving in England, the 25-year-old – who is only a month older than Diaz – has scored 15 goals and registered 11 assists, already hitting nine goals this season having managed six in his first campaign.

Only Bruno Fernandes (160), Trent Alexander-Arnold (133), Mason Mount (115) and Kevin De Bruyne (111) have created more chances in the Premier League since Leeds bought him than his 107, while only Allan Saint-Maximin (318) and Adama Traore (306) have attempted more than his 245 dribbles.

Raphinha has been integral to Leeds, particularly this season. By Christmas Day, he had scored 44 per cent of his team's league goals (eight out of 18).

Of course, his goal output pales in comparison to Salah's, who has 34 goals (six penalties) in 56 Premier League games in that time, and 14 assists.

He has attempted more dribbles than Salah's 176, and his 104 completed dribbles beats Salah's 69, though there is undoubtedly more onus on Raphinha to force openings for Leeds than Salah at Liverpool, where he has a bit more help, particularly with Alexander-Arnold backing him up from right back.

There has already been talk that the Yorkshire club are looking to extend his current deal, but of late, things have not been quite as rosy between player and club.

He did not score in any of Leeds' first six games of 2022 and was subbed at half-time in the 3-0 defeat at Everton last week, before not even making the starting line-up for the visit of Manchester United on Sunday.

With his team 2-0 down, Bielsa brought Raphinha on at half-time and he made an instant impact, with his goal making it 2-2 within nine minutes of arriving in the game, though it would ultimately end in a 4-2 loss to their old rivals.

There is also the fact that, for all of the player's contributions, there must be some frustration that his goals so often end with zero points on the board.

Four of the nine Premier League games in which Raphinha has scored for Leeds this season have ended in defeat – no player has scored in more losses so far this term.

Of course, the issue if he were to move to Liverpool would be game time. He would see a lot more of their subs' bench than he does at Leeds, but with more games in their calendar thanks to the Champions League and, this season at least, going far in domestic cup competitions, there could still be plenty of minutes to be had in spite of Salah's undroppable status.

While he is not on Salah's level yet – though you can arguably count those who are on one finger – his numbers have already improved while he has been in England and you would fancy a manager like Klopp to be able to raise that ceiling further still, even though Leeds fans might not want to listen to such arguments.

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