Who is Sven Botman? A Stats Overview

Why Liverpool's Van Dijk absence could accelerate Botman's progression.

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Liverpool are in desperate need of a center back.

Not much more needs to be said on that front. What does need to be established is exactly the kind of centre back they need. Here are a few core things CBs for Liverpool need to have:

  • Excellent in the air, both from a defensive perspective and as part of attacking set-pieces.

  • Very good with the ball at their feet, particularly the ability to pick long progressive passes.

  • Fast, with good acceleration over short distances as well as a high top speed.

  • Young enough to be a successful long term addition while not bearing a superstar level pricetag.

On the surface, Sven Botman seems to fit many of these categories.

And, let’s get this out of the way:

He’s very good at defending. I don’t think we need to focus on that. His Defensive Duel Success Percentage is 79.79%. There are only 2 players in the top 5 leagues with higher scores than that, and neither have even half the minutes played that Botman has. From all we can judge, he looks like an effective defender - at least in Lille’s system.

Time for introductions.

Who is Sven Botman and why might Liverpool be interested?

Sven Botman is a 20-year-old Dutch footballer who plays for Lille, where he joined from Ajax after returning from his loan to Heerenveen. He’s a left-sided centre back, around 6 foot 4, and a big lad to boot.

His Wyscout overview below shows at a glance why Liverpool might be interested:

The three data points along the bottom there are Aerial Duels Won %, Aerial Duels per-90, and Fouls per-90 - with fewer obviously being bigger and better on the graph.

The three passing metrics on the left show that he doesn’t misplace many passes and he isn’t constantly playing long passes - but his success rate when he does is a little below average.

This gives us a good glimpse, but what if we look to drill down into the different areas?

Sven Botman: Excellent in the air by any standard

Botman’s clear strength is his aerial ability. This isn’t surprising given he’s six-four, but for a 20-year-old it’s easy to be bullied. Liverpool fans can think of Van den Berg or Koumetio to know that just because a young lad is big doesn’t mean he’ll dominate in the air.

Hell, Williams has an aerial success rate of 79% (from limited minutes) this season and must be about six-four too, yet Klopp prefers Phillips in games he thinks will present an aerial battle.

The point is, Botman isn’t just good in the air - he’s great. The graph below shows aerial duel success rate across all players in the top 5 leagues who have played more than 1,000 minutes this season. I’ve ordered the graph by age to highlight how exceptional Botman is in this regard.

Botman’s aerial ability is comparable to Harry Maguire - which even Liverpool fans would admit is pretty good.

Given VVD is out for the season and Matip’s injuries have left him difficult to rely on, this aerial presence is something Liverpool are sorely missing. Moreover, Liverpool’s right side of defense is set up for the next decade with Joe Gomez - but the one thing he needs beside him is height.

Does Botman have the passing range for a Liverpool CB?

One key quality that separates Liverpool CBs from many others in the league is they are very good with the ball at their feet.

Liverpool don’t just buy Lump It Lads - they buy good footballers.

Van Dijk and Matip have an incredibly impressive long pass on them, which Liverpool frequently use to devastating effect. Mané’s goal against Bayern Munich is likely the most iconic of these, but Liverpool use it all the time to relieve pressure, move opposition defenders around, and to keep opposition full-backs narrow, pinned-back, or wide - depending on what the team needs in-game.

It also reduces the pressure on the midfield as if the opposition midfield pushes too high up… the ball is just lofted with precision over their heads.

That said, it’s difficult to identify in the numbers exactly how good Botman is on the ball in defense. This feels much like an eye test job to me.

You see, his overall pass completion rates hover around 90%, so there’s at least nothing to worry about. But his 55% long pass accuracy is difficult to read without looking at the game state in each moment. Van Dijk is world class at long passes but Ben Mee probably does more of them, and with Ashley Barnes et al to aim for his completion rate could be very high (I haven’t checked the data - just hypotheticals).

The best metric Botman has going for him is that he’s number 25 according to Wyscout in the top 5 leagues for ball progression by passes. This is really good but it’s one of those times where the stats feel uncomfortable. Are they wrong or is our perception wrong?

The point is - we need to look at the video, and it needs a proper scouting report - one that I don’t have time for. But we can do a smaller one quickly to get a glimpse. All the long passes from Botman’s last 5 games - go:

Sven Botman Passing Sample 1: Montpellier 2:3 Lille

  • 4 attempted / 2 accurate

  • The first is just a ping to the fullback. It was fine but nothing to write home about.

  • The second was a clearance. A good clearance which could have been dangerous… but wasn’t.

  • Third was hoofed clearance straight to the opposition CBs.

  • The fourth was completed technically but again, not much to speak of.

  • Nothing to speak of yet.

Sven Botman Passing Sample 2: Lille 0:0 PSG

  • 2 attempted / 0 accurate

  • The first pass didn’t complete but it wasn’t a bad bit of play. Won the ball and played it down the line.

  • Just a clearance really.

Sven Botman Passing Sample 3: Dijon 0:2 Lille

  • 8 attempted / 3 accurate

  • The 4th and 5th ones are doing the right things, playing into the channels - and though neither of them produced anything directly, they moved play into the right zones and led to Lille winning a) a throw in near the opposition corner flag, and b) the second ball to break into the box.

  • Number 6 was a decent midrange ping, if a little high.

Sven Botman Passing Sample 4: Lille 2:1 Bordeaux

  • 4 attempted / 0 accurate

  • Not really much to write home about here.

Sven Botman Passing Sample 5: Celtic 3:2 Lille

  • 5 attempted / 4 accurate

  • The third one was nice as he drove out of defense (unpressured) to the half way line to slide the ball down the line to the winger. Advanced play effectively with a well weighted pass while not risking losing possession.

Overall assessment of Botman’s long passing from this sample would be that it’s an area of his game he can improve.

Liverpool are absolutely spoiled rotten with ball playing CBs, and comparing every potential buy to VVD is not going to be fair.

Passing like this is also partly a team thing. Players need to be in the right positions, the opposition might need to have been pulled out of shape, the right runs need to be made, or the CB needs to have received the ball early enough to catch the opposition out of their defensive shape.

He can certainly strike a ball but I haven’t seen evidence yet of huge passing range. Interesting to note, too, that after a scan of YouTube highlights compilations, passing is not a common area for them to focus on or include significant highlights of. Which suggests I’m not the only one struggling to find Hollywood passes.

Can Sven Botman play a role for Liverpool?

The other two factors we mentioned at the beginning were pace and age. At 20, he’s certainly young enough to spend another 15 years with the club, if Edwards and HR wanted.

There’s no problem there, and his physical and in-game maturity are very good for his age. The only issue could be expecting him to walk into the first team for the rest of this season. Twenty year olds make mistakes and the last thing you want is to smash his confidence. You’d expect a 23/24 year old to be a safer Edwards/Klopp buy than Botman, but as a wise rival once said “if they’re good enough, they’re old enough”.

[Note: Not a strong legal defense.]

Pace-wise, until seeing more accurate performance data I’d be hesitant to comment. He doesn’t look Gomez/VVD levels, but he’s no slouch either. At 20, with his body still changing, his pace isn’t decided yet - it’s very possible for him to go up a level with the right training and conditioning from here.

All in all:

Botman looks like a really strong defender who has the potential and attributes to have a very high ceiling. He has areas of his game he can still work on, like his passing, and areas where he’ll never be world class but can improve - like his pace. His ability in the air and his reading of play alone would make him a welcome addition to Liverpool this season, but the real value would be in future: this is a player with a real world class ceiling.