Sam McGuire: Consistent threat, inconsistent scorer - Can Liverpool EVER fix Darwin Nunez?

Darwin Nunez remains an enigma for Liverpool.  The No.9 started the game against Tottenham Hotspur on the bench with Jurgen Klopp opting to name a front three of Luis Diaz, Cody Gakpo and Mohamed Salah. 

The German’s decision was justified with both Salah and Gakpo getting on the scoresheet in a 4-2 win for the Reds while Diaz impressed in more of a central role at times. 

The Colombian was replaced after 75 minutes having completed 100 percent of his passes, 100% of his attempted dribbles and winning 70% of his ground duels to round off a strong outing. Taking his place for the final 15 minutes was Darwin.  

Liverpool lost control and momentum after making the changes and their Uruguayan forward struggled to really get into the game. 

Such were his toils that he later deleted ALL mentions of Liverpool from his social media profiles after being subjected to severe, unwarranted abuse from fans online. 

He did, however, have two big moments in the final stages. Darwin thought he’d claimed a ninth Premier League assist of the season when he set up Salah, only for the goal to be ruled out for offside. The former Benfica man, again, hadn’t timed his run properly. 

The 24-year-old then had an opportunity to boost his confidence with what would’ve been his first goal in eight games when he was played through on goal by Salah. It should’ve been a routine finish. 

Guglielmo Vicario, the Spurs keeper, was racing out his goal. Darwin just needed to show an ounce of composure to take it around the goalkeeper and he would’ve had an unguarded net to pass the ball into. 

Owen concerns back in focus

Instead, he tried a very awkward-looking finish from 20 yards out that hit  Vicario and bounced clear. You could see what Darwin was trying to do but it wasn’t the right sort of finish. The ball was under his feet as he tried to open up his body to curl his effort into the far corner. 

It was a poor decision. He managed to turn a chance with an Expected Goals value of 0.47 into a shot with an Expected Goals on Target total of 0.10. Whereas in the past he’s been incredibly unlucky with some of his attempts, this one was just a poor finish. And it arrived in what was a pressure-free situation. Liverpool had the game won. 

Michael Owen

Michael Owen

I’ve previously defended Darwin’s finishing. I disagreed with Michael Owen after the one-time Manchester United forward claimed the finish against Brentford was “also further proof that if he is to get closer to becoming the great player many people think he can be, he has to adapt his way of thinking. 

“I mean, to even consider that finish is madness. It’s a 1 in 10, 2 in 10 finish at best. Learning to slot, dink or go round the GK is a far more productive way to score and will increase his chances to 4 or 5 in 10, thus massively increasing his end return. 

“I’m really not trying to rain on his parade as that goal was pure class. But I’d rather see it when Liverpool are 3-0 up, not at 0-0.”

Spurs finish made NO sense

His assessment of that particular finish seems extremely harsh. At first glance, it is an outrageous, almost unnecessary finish.  But the positioning of Mark Flekken, as detailed in the breakdown of the goal, makes it difficult for Nunez to do anything else. 

Darwin would’ve had to knock the ball to his right to go around the keeper and Flekken is already positioned to spring into action if he does attempt that. The angle would’ve been extremely narrow too and the window of opportunity shrinks with every second the effort is delayed. 

Darwin Nunez Jurgen Klopp

Darwin Nunez Jurgen Klopp

Personally, I didn’t mind that finish against Brentford. But the effort against Spurs is something that makes no sense whatsoever. With Vicario flying out of his goal and looking to show Darwin onto his left side, the decision is an obvious one. The former No.27 just needed to go to his left and bypass the erratic Spurs goalkeeper completely. 

In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter. But when looking at the bigger picture, it kind of does matter, doesn’t it? Because why is that sort of finish at the forefront of his mind when put in that position? 

Darwin in his prime but still extremely raw

Is this just Darwin? Is he destined to be a consistent goal threat but an inconsistent goalscorer? After all, his bad luck from earlier in the season didn’t even out. 

It simply went from bad luck to bad finishing. He didn’t get that purple patch the numbers suggested he was owed. 

The soon-to-be 25-year-old has underperformed his Expected Goal (xG) numbers in four of his previous five campaigns. He should soon be entering his prime but he still seems to be extremely raw in certain moments and his finishing is a concern. 

The only time he didn’t underperform as a finisher was during his second season with Benfica. His exploits in Lisbon during the 2021/22 campaign caught the eye of a lot of big clubs but it was Liverpool who paid an initial £64 million for him. 

Upon his arrival on Merseyside, many hoped his overperformance was a sign of things to come but it appears the 2021/22 campaign is the outlier rather than the norm. 

Darwin is a threat and the team are generally much more dangerous with him in the XI - he’s actually posted an Expected Goals Contribution (xG plus Expected Assists) of 0.96 per 90 this term, so he does make things happen for himself and the Reds. 

But will he ever be able to take that step up to be the team’s primary goalscorer? Arne Slot probably gives him a season. If that doesn’t work, tough conversations may be needed this time next year. 

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