Does the name Sotirios Kyrgiakos ring a bell? Back in 2009, he became the first Greek to ever pull on the infamous red shirt. Fast forward 11 years and Kostas Tsimikas signs for Liverpool becoming the second. The former Olympiacos left-back signed for Jürgen Klopp’s Premier League winners on the 10th August 2020. Tsimikas, a defensively sound full-back who is equally as impressive getting forward joins a long list of left-backs who have signed for Liverpool, and the club have a long history of left-backs becoming cult heroes at the club. Alan Kennedy, John Arne Riise, Ronnie Moran and Andrew Robertson have all become cult heroes at Anfield for one reason or another, whether it’s due to their performances on the pitch, key contributions in massive games or being a club legend that has served the club in every role from tea boy to manager and everything in between. Tsimikas joins a thriving Liverpool squad, hungry to add more silverware to their four-trophy haul in the 2019/20 season. A player who provides Klopp with an alternative option and at last a genuine left-back to compete with Robertson for a place in the starting XI.
In this tactical analysis, we will produce an in-depth scout report of Tsimikas, with the aim of providing a detailed analysis on his strengths and highlighting any areas of improvement as he adds depth to Klopp’s defensive ranks.
The role of a full-back in Klopp’s tactics
Full-backs in Klopp’s tactics have many various roles and responsibilities in the team. The emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson has seen them become Liverpool’s primary creative forces. Where in Manchester City’s side Kevin De Bruyne and fellow midfielders are the creative sparks, Liverpool’s midfield adopts a more industrious role, covering for the forging forward runs from Alexander-Arnold and Robertson.
A key principle of the full-back in Klopp’s team is to provide the width when in the attacking phase as this allows wingers, or inside forwards, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah, to cut inside and occupy the half-space, making it difficult for defences to mark both the winger and the full-back. We can see an example of this below.
The image above shows us how Robertson’s off-the-ball movement is intricately linked to that of Mané. As the Senegalese man moves into the half-space, Robertson immediately looks to overlap him on the outside, providing width and a potential crossing option.
The full-back, winger and one of the central-midfielders form a passing triangle that is used to break through defensive lines and combined with smart rotation of positions, increases the difficulty for opposing teams to defend against.
If we look at a scatter graph containing full-backs from the top five European leagues, as well as a few other European leagues, it becomes clear that Liverpool full-backs are creative and progressive. Alexander-Arnold plays a great number of crosses per 90, whilst Robertson is more progressive with his runs than his Scouse team-mate but plays fewer crosses.
This section has served to provide a brief insight into the roles and characteristics that Klopp likes his full-backs to have. Attacking, creative and progressive. In the following sections, we will analyse Tsimikas during his last season in Greece and learn more about why Klopp and Liverpool sporting director Michael Edwards have brought the 24-year-old to Merseyside.
As we have discussed, Klopp tasks his full-backs with being the side’s creative outlets. To be creative, the full-backs must progress the ball up the pitch, whether this is by passing or by running with the ball. Currently, Liverpool have Alexander-Arnold who is very progressive with his passing and Robertson is more balanced. Tsimikas, however, is a lot less progressive with his passing than both current Liverpool full-backs, although he is the most progressive when running with the ball, being ever so slightly better than Robertson.
Let us look at some examples of Tsimikas’ progressive nature. The following example is from Olympiacos’ match away at PAOK.
Tsimikas steps in to intercept a pass and drives forward across the half-way line, beating four players before managing to fire away a shot.
His ability to drive forwards will be a big asset to Liverpool and their tactics whilst his progressive passing will need to improve if he is to challenge Robertson for a place in the starting XI.
Looking at his Wyscout report, we can see just how frequently Tsimikas runs with the ball and progresses the ball up the pitch.
What Tsimikas will have to improve on is his ball retention at the end of his progressive runs. As shown above, 64.2% of his progressive runs result in a loss of possession.
He does have to make improvements, particularly in his quantity of progressive passes and retaining the ball following his frequent progressive runs.
Creative crossing ability
Liverpool’s full-backs are arguably the most creative in Europe, and, particularly, in their crossing ability. Tsimikas was a creative force in Greece, playing on average 0.69 key passes per 90. For reference, Alexander-Arnold plays 0.9 key passes per 90 and Robertson 0.84.
If we look at the statistics for crosses per 90 and passes to the penalty area per 90, we can see that Tsimikas is one of the highest scorers in both areas. Albeit his performances have come from the Greek Super League, but it is a promising sign for his future at Liverpool.
We can now look at some examples of Tsimikas’ creative passing. The following example is from Olympiacos’ match versus Tottenham Hotspur.
A ball is played in behind the Spurs defence as Tsimikas commits to the overlap and he manages to fire a brilliant cross into the penalty area with his first touch. A position that Liverpool left-back Robertson finds himself him in on many occasions.
We can see another example of Tsimikas’ crossing ability in the match versus Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Once again, we find Tsimikas out-wide as he plays a low whipped cross from a deeper position towards the back post along that corridor of uncertainty where the goalkeeper isn’t sure whether to come off his line or not. At Liverpool, Tsimikas will find himself in this position on many occasions.
Tsimikas has shown that he has the ability and vision to play key passes from wide areas, a talent that will be well suited to Liverpool’s style of play.
Off-the ball movements
So, we have already discussed how Liverpool’s creativity comes from their full-backs. A huge element of their roles in Klopp’s team is to get forward and provide the width so that Mané and Salah can play in the half-space. It may seem obvious then that both full-backs need to be proficient at recognising the correct time to drive forwards and be quick enough to take advantage of spaces left by an opposition.
Tsimikas is always looking to get forward at every opportunity. He frequently makes an overlapping run around his winger, creating that split second of doubt in a defender’s mind whether to stay with his man or follow him instead. We can see a great example of this in the recent UEFA Champions League match versus Bayern Munich.
Here we see Tsimikas making a lung-busting run to overlap his team-mate and provide Olympiacos with a wide option in the attack. The ball ends up being passed to him and he goes on to fire a cross across the six-yard box.
Anybody who watches Liverpool frequently will know that these overlapping runs are a cornerstone of their attacking tactics, as it enables Liverpool to overload the central areas whilst still stretching an opposition’s defensive structure by pushing their full-backs higher.
The image below is another example of Tsimikas’ knowledge and ability to drive past his teammate on an overlap.
Tsimikas embarks on another overlapping run and as his teammate receives the ball, he is pressured by a Xanthi player. The fact that Tsimikas has made his overlapping runs allows his team-mate to play the ball forwards and into Tsimikas’ path. If we cast our minds back to how Liverpool utilise triangles in wide areas, this is a perfect example of how Tsimikas has experience functioning in a system that utilises a similar concept.
Tsimikas’ tendency to overlap his winger will have been one of the traits that highlighted him to Klopp and the scouting team at the Premier League Champions. This trait fits in with Liverpool’s tactics and may only need slight refining to ensure he is aware of the different rotation patterns that Liverpool operate.
We all love an attacking full-back. The sight of a marauding defender bombing forward to contribute in the attacking phase is a sight to behold. A full-back is, of course, primarily a defender. It’s a defensive position after all. A full-back capable of bombing forward and being a creative outlet still needs to be solid defensively and this is an area that Liverpool’s current full-backs, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson, have been criticised in the last 18 months.
Tsimikas is a defensive beast. By joining Liverpool, he instantly becomes the most talented full-back in a defensive sense – at least that’s what the stats would suggest. The following scatter graph shows defensive duels won as a percentage and possession-adjusted interceptions per 90.
If we look at the top-right corner of the graph, we can see the leading defensive full-backs in Europe. However, we are really interested in how Tsimikas compares to Liverpool’s current full-backs. All three players have remarkably similar numbers in terms of interceptions, but the Greek international clearly scores higher in terms of defensive duels won as a percentage. Tsimikas wins 65.29% of his defensive duels, considerably higher than Robertson’s 59.2% and Alexander-Arnold’s 53.99%.
Analysing Tsikimas’ Wyscout report, we can see just how effective he is in his defensive duels.
The top image shows us that the majority of Tsimikas’ successful defensive actions are defensive duels or tackles. We can look at some particularly good examples from recent matches. Firstly, below is an example from Olympiacos’ match versus Aris.
Aris work a scenario where they have their right-winger ‘1v1’ with Tsimikas. Tsimikas jockeys the player, keeping a close eye on the ball and as the winger looks to drive past him, Tsimikas steps in, wins the ball cleanly and can drive it up the wing.
Another element of Tsimikas’ impressive defence is his ability to read the game and adjust his positioning accordingly to either prevent a pass or intercept it. The UEFA Champions League match versus Bayern Munich has a great example of this.
Here we see Bayern Munich trying to play a lofted ball over the top of the Olympiacos defence. Tsimikas identifies the threat of the winger making a run in behind, tracks his run and manages to intercept the through ball before deploying a pass to a teammate instigating an Olympiacos counter-attack.
It could be argued that Tsimikas is the best defensively of the three senior full-backs at Liverpool. Surely an attribute that endeared him to Klopp and his backroom staff.
Tsimikas is undoubtedly a great talent, but there are areas that he needs to improve. His progressive passing for example. If he is to be a success at Liverpool, he will have to adapt and become proficient at progressing the play with his passing, not just his runs. Another area that Tsimikas will have to improve is his understanding of Liverpool’s complex pressing and counter-pressing tactics. When Robertson first signed for Liverpool, as with many of Klopp’s new signings, there was an adjustment period as they learned the system and their intricate role within the tactics.
In this tactical analysis, we have produced a scout report and discovered that Tsimikas has the potential to be an extremely useful player for Liverpool with his defensive aptitude combined with the natural attacking instincts which can give Klopp and Liverpool options. It may be that Tsimikas’ experience in Europe may prove vital in the early stages of Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League campaign. Liverpool have paid little for a player that is capable of slotting in when Klopp deems it necessary to give Robertson a rest, something he hasn’t been able to do for many years. James Milner has filled in at left-back on many occasions, but the effect of fielding a right-footed player at left-back changes the entire team dynamic.
Does Tsimikas have the potential to become the latest left-back cult hero at Liverpool? He’s got Robertson to contend with first but this is bound to be a healthy competition for the Premier League Champions.