A look at Liverpool Target Luan’s Performance Against Fluminense

laun2Gremio cruised to a 2-0 win over Fluminense last week in the Brasileirao, and as is often the case in Brazilian football, there was plenty of transfer speculation surrounding the game. On Fluminense’s side of the fence, there was plenty of talk about Richarlison, who is the subject of intense interest from Palmeiras. Gremio, meanwhile, have been dealing with transfer rumours regarding Luan, their star forward who has been heavily linked with a move to Liverpool.

In the end, Luan played the better football of the two. He wasn’t at his dynamic best by any means, but he was a solid contributor throughout the 90 minutes and, when his moment arrived late in the second half, he stepped up to score a freekick from about 25 yards out. Aside from those efforts, however, there wasn’t a huge amount of the direct running and dribbling for which he has become known. There was a glimpse of it at one point, when he picked up possession in a true No. 10 position before weaving around two defenders and teeing up a chance for a teammate, only to see Marquinhos Calazans slide in with a late lunging tackle to retrieve the situation. The rebound, which came off Fluminense goalkeeper Julio Cesar, then fell to Luan, but despite taking it out of the air with a decent left-footed volley, he shot wide of the mark.

Still, it was a look at what he can do. He’s a direct threat when he’s at the best, someone who combines tight dribbling with exceptional movement and solid passing. Throw in the ability to shoot well, and he is a strong and versatile player in the final third. Chapecoense found this out a couple of weeks ago, when Luan scored once and laid on a further four assists against them in a single match. This was the sort of game where he could thrive, as he often found himself able to drop into space between the lines, something he loves to do, before running or passing into the vacant pockets ahead.

Two of his assists were from counter-attacking situations, where he played slick killers balls in behind for Everton. In addition, Luan’s goal also resulted from his quickness of foot and thought, and this time, he exchanged a sharp one-two with attacking midfielder Ramiro. He then found himself in one-on-one with the goalkeeper, and after steadying himself and picking his spot, he dispatched his shot with a neat flick of his right boot.

That’s the kind of varied, all-action display of which he is capable, but against Fluminense, he had to be a little more subdued. Flu weren’t about to allow that kind of room to counter, so Luan regularly found himself having to play a more cultured role. He couldn’t turn and run towards goal, so he had to drop off the front line, into spaces between the lines, in order to receive the ball and go to work up against a compact opposition defence. For some pacey attackers, this could’ve been a problem. After all, not everyone is overly versatile, and having to contribute to slower sequences of build-up play simply doesn’t suit all front men. Fortunately for Gremio, however, Luan is pretty strong in these situations.

In fact, Luan’s intuitive movement allows him to impress in these phases of the game. The Olympic gold medallist is able to pick his pockets really well, so he often picks up possession away from markers in between the lines. He can then use his slick link-up play to coalesce with his teammates, and against Fluiminense, he completed 52 of his 62 passes, for an 84% success rate. This is a good number for a forward who not only receives the ball in tight spaces, but also tries a lot of aggressive passes. He didn’t manage any key passes this time around, even if he went close in the example above, but the fact that he hits 1.7 key passes per game indicates that he usually does a better job of creating chances.

In truth, though, this wasn’t really a game for chance generation. Both of Gremio’s goals came from freekicks, and with both sides sitting pretty deep in defence, that wasn’t overly surprising. This meant Luan had to mix up his movement, not only by floating into central spaces between the lines but also by moving out wide. That’s something he’s pretty comfortable with, having spent plenty of time as a wide man, and it shows when he drifts into these positions. He can exchange passes with onrushing players out near the touchline, or cut back back inside to keep it a little more straightforward with a pass to a holding midfielder. The graphic below shows how he varied his movement, as in addition to dropping to either side of Fluminense’s holding midfielders, Wendel and Matheus Norton, he also filtered into the wide areas from time to time as well.

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It’s probably this movement that allows Luan to create as many chances as he does. That’s not to say he’s a bad ball user – his distribution is crisp and he certainly has an eye for a pass – but he’s not a truly inventive passer in the manner of a Mesut Ozil. His movement is so good, however, that he’s always receiving the ball in positions from which he can find a teammate in a promising spot. Throw in his excellence from dead ball scenarios, something which allowed him to assist Michel’s strike against Chapecoense, and he’s an extremely varied player when it comes to attack.

To finish things off against Fluminense, he again demonstrated his set-piece quality. Here, the ball was set up in a left-of-centre location, and although Edilson had thundered in Gremio’s opener with a powerful freekick, this one was a little closer in. Luan, being more of a placement-based shooter from set-pieces, got the nod as a result of this. He soon showed why, curling his shot not only over the wall but into the back of the net. An exceptional strike, it provided Luan with a nice punctuation mark on an efficient if otherwise unspectacular evening. This was the moment to add a bit of shine to his match, though, and with the 24-year-old hitman doing this kind of thing with regularity in Brazil, it’s no surprise that Liverpool are so keen to bring him in.

He’s spent enough time honing his craft in Brazil to be ready for such a move, and a fluid system such as Jurgen Klopp’s, which makes good use of direct, athletic attackers who prioritise movement and technique, should help him to settle in more quickly. Whether he makes the move, which could involve a fee projected to be around the £26 million mark, remains to be seen, but the wiry boy from Sao Paulo state certainly has the ability to make an impact in European football.

For now, however, he’ll just have to keep on performing in the blue, black and white of Gremio, and judging by his efforts to date, that’s something he seems pretty happy to do.