"He takes loads of good quality shots. There is literally nothing else to say. All other arguments, they're second-order effects compared to this.”
Ian Graham, the former Head of Data at Liverpool FC, had his say on Darwin Nunez when speaking with ESPN’s Ryan O’Hanlon. A man with his knowledge and insight could’ve gone into greater detail but he didn’t need to. He summed up the Liverpool No. 9 perfectly.
Darwin has divided opinion ever since moving to Merseyside.
Some believe he just doesn’t have that ruthless edge all top strikers have and that he’s never going to develop it, while others feel it is a matter of when and not if he finds himself amongst the goals.
The former Benfica man does muddy the water. As O’Hanlon said in his piece: “Nunez fails more than anyone, but that’s largely because he tries more than anyone.”
And this skews perception.
You remember the many, many, many misses rather than the many, many, many chances he’s carved out for the Reds.
Finishing is fickle, forwards can go through stages of missing everything before a purple patch sees every single shot go in. Smart clubs know there are no guarantees with goals. Instead, they bank on attackers being a consistent threat. In that sense, Darwin is as reliable as they come.
In the 4-1 win over Chelsea, the Liverpool striker finished the game having taken 11 shots. He single-handedly out-shot the visitors 7-1 in the first half and 4-3 in the second half. Those metrics alone are truly remarkable.
He hit the woodwork a Premier League record four times in the game (more than any other Premier League player's tally all season) and this takes his total for the campaign to 13. The focus has been on the chances he missed — the penalty and the header when it looked easier to score.
But the focus should really be on what a handful the 24-year-old against the Blues at Anfield.
At 0-0, he forced Chelsea keeper Djordje Petrovic into two stunning saves. The first was when he hit an effort from 20-25 yards out that was heading in before the shot-stopper got his fingertips to it and got enough on it to make sure the shot cannoned back off the bar. The next, a snapshot on his weaker left side forced Petrovic to get down low quickly. He just about managed to tip it onto the post.
These two efforts had a combined Expected Goals total of 0.12. His placement turned them into shots with an Expected Goals on Target total of 0.42. And Liverpool earned two corners. This is what you get from Darwin. Yes, there are a lot of misses but then he will also give you something out of nothing. With him on the pitch, Liverpool are a greater threat. With him on the pitch, the Reds have more ways to win a game.
Jurgen Klopp said as much in his post-match press conference: "[Nunez] had an insane first half, impossible to defend, really good. It's the first time since we counted that a player hit woodwork four times in a game and he missed a penalty [among those misses].
"He was really disappointed with himself about missing the penalty, but he is a handful. It was really hard for him. You could see at half-time that he was upset with himself — he missed a header too in the second half, but then he created a goal. It's crazy that he creates so many. We scored four goals, so who cares about the ones he didn't score? He will score goals, it will come. He is in outstanding shape, still a bit unlucky, so it's all fine."
Darwin didn’t let the misses knock his confidence. He kept going.
He kept causing issues for Chelsea and he eventually registered an assist. His seventh of the season in the Premier League, a tally only Mohamed Salah, Kieran Trippier and Ollie Watkins can better. The Liverpool No. 9 now has 14 goal involvements in the top tier of English football this term in just 1,299 minutes (14 starts in total).
His numbers are identical to those posted by Bukayo Saka, despite appearing in almost 600 minutes fewer. The narratives around the two players couldn’t be any different though.
There was a fear that the Reds might struggle with Mohamed Salah away at AFCON but since his departure, Darwin has three goals and three assists. He’s stepped up to fill the dual-threat role. He might not score as many people want but he is scoring, he is assisting and he is continuing to be a general menace. And Liverpool are all the better for it.
Just embrace the chaos.