Sam McGuire: The pros and cons of SELLING Darwin Nunez amid Barcelona interest

Darwin Nunez is divisive. There are those who focus on what he does do while others prefer to hone in on what he doesn’t do.

The Liverpool No.9 is having a difficult time right now and his 2023/24 campaign is threatening to fizzle out, just as his debut season did with the Reds last term.

The former Benfica forward has just two goals and an assist in his last 10 Premier League outings and he’s had to settle for a start on the bench in three of the last four games. Jurgen Klopp hasn’t come out and said he’s been dropped due to his performances but it really doesn’t seem to be a case of the German tactician managing his minutes, so what else could it be?

Last season, Darwin finished with one goal in his final 10 Premier League appearances. He started just four of those games. With the system changing, there didn’t seem to be a clear place for him in the XI, not one that played to his strengths anyway. It is the same this time around. When he is coming on, he’s being used on the left and he’s barely involved or up to speed.

There was doubt over his future then and there is now.

Recent reports have complicated things too. Paul Joyce, rather randomly it must be said, revealed that Klopp pushed for Darwin to be signed while the recruitment team favoured a move for Christopher Nkunku. David Ornstein claimed the No.9 is unlikely to leave Anfield this summer but the Reds wouldn’t exactly advertise it if he was available, would they?

The Joyce report is all of the confirmation you need that, for the right price, the Reds would be willing to part ways with the enigmatic forward.

It was also revealed that Chelsea and Real Madrid had a look at the one-time Almeria man during the 2023 summer transfer window. Exactly what went on wasn’t detailed, but the fact both clubs had a look, with the Blues reportedly enquiring about his availability, suggests the player and his management were open to hearing what was on offer.

Following the win over Spurs, a game in which Darwin missed an opportunity late on,  the forward, rather petulantly, deleted all but one of the Instagram posts that had a reference to Liverpool.

And now outlets in Spain are claiming Barcelona are set to rekindle their interest in the 24-year-old.

Darwin Nunez Jurgen Klopp

Darwin Nunez Jurgen Klopp

According to SPORT, Darwin is viewed as the successor to Robert Lewandowski at Camp Nou. Xavi, now staying with Barca, is looking to freshen up his forward line and the Liverpool forward is on the list of potential targets.

The report goes on to claim the Catalan-based club looked at the forward in 2020 during his sting with Almeria. Darwin says ‘yes’ to the move only for him to end up at Benfica after Ronald Koeman, then the manager at Barca, not being convinced by the explosive Uruguayan.

Liverpool weighing up Darwin departure

So, some of the groundwork has been put into place for a departure.

Liverpool, via Joyce, have made it known that Klopp pushed for the player and with the German leaving, there isn’t necessarily a senior figure at the club invested in the frontman. At least not to the extent that he is simply untouchable.

Darwin’s apparent fondness for Barcelona is now well known and the club famed for their use of the media when pursuing players are now planting the seeds for a potential move.

This isn’t to say Darwin is definitely going to leave, but he could, couldn’t he? Should the club even entertain the idea though?

As Klopp said in his most recent press conference, the forward hasn’t had the best of luck this season.

Klopp: '18 goals? Those aren't bad numbers'

“Darwin was definitely not happy missing that chance. He is unlucky, let me say that. He was unlucky in so many situations where he is doing everything right but the ball still doesn’t go in.

“All his problem is that he is that good, he is constantly in these moments. If he was less good, he would not have chances. People just say, ‘That’s not great’. How many goals did he score? He is not too bad with numbers right. Eighteen goals (in all competitions). They are not bad numbers.

“Because of his quality everyone says, ‘Ah, again, again’ because we did not score. If somebody else would have scored in that moment and it would not have felt that bad. “Nobody likes it but it’s part of a career.”

Darwin Nunez, Liverpool

Football - FA Premier League - Manchester United, ManU FC v Liverpool FC MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, April 7, 2024: Liverpool s Darwin Nunez reacts after missing a chance during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda MANCHESTER Old Trafford GREATER MANCHESTER ENGLAND PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK Copyright: xDavidxRawcliffex 2024-04-07-106-Man_Utd_Liverpool

People will focus on the misses. They’ll focus on what he isn’t able to do and that is consistently put the ball into the back of the net.

The Liverpool striker has 11 Premier League goals from an Expected Goals (xG) haul of 16.3 and 106 shots. That is a significant underperformance. Only Erling Haaland (32) has missed more big chances than the soon-to-be 25-year-old (27). The frustration is justified. Haaland has missed five more big chances but has 14 more goals to his name. People are more forgiving towards misses if there are goals in the bank.

Luck can even itself out

Usually, if a player underperforms their xG total, it is purely tied to poor finishing. But when looking at post-shot Expected Goals, this metric values where efforts go on goal, you see that Darwin is actually only slightly devaluing his efforts, with a haul of 15.32. But even so, his actual return of 11 is way down on that total which suggests good goalkeeping and bad luck.

At some point, bad luck evens itself out, right?

And while goals win you games, having a reliable goal threat increases the chances of getting goals. Darwin is just that.

He is a reliable goal threat. At least when the team ensure they play to his strengths. For a little context here, he has a Non-Penalty Expected Goal involvement (Expected Goals + Expected Assists) average of 0.95 since moving to England. Over the same time period, Salah an average of 0.85, Diogo Jota is coming in at 0.68 while Erling Haaland has posted an average of 0.95.

So, yeah, underlying numbers-wise, Darwin is on par with whom many believe to be the best striker in the world. He is that influential to the way the Reds attack.

Sell Darwin only for Coutinho-like money

Liverpool surely cannot afford to part ways with such a final-third influence. Not unless they are getting big money. Because to replace that sort of influence, you are going to need to spend big money.

The only reason it makes sense to sell Darwin is if Arne Slot and Richard Hughes believe he isn’t going to be able to be as influential in whatever plan they have drawn up and keeping him wouldn’t benefit anybody as he wouldn’t be allowed to play his natural game.

You then sell up and reinvest in a better-suited player. But if that isn’t the case, there’s not a chance the nerds at the club allow for a sale to happen.

If Barca want him, we're talking Coutinho money. And they no longer have that sort of cash.

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