Manchester United game provides big chance for Liverpool's misfiring forwards

It is going under the radar a little, but Liverpool’s attack just isn’t firing.

It hasn’t really mattered with the Reds finding ways to win games. In truth, it shouldn’t really matter. At the end of the day, three points is three points, it doesn’t really matter how you get them.

At some point, though, it will. At some point, the rest of the team aren’t going to be able to paper over the cracks and Liverpool are going to need one of their attackers not named Mohamed Salah to get them out of a hole.

The three-time Golden Boot winner is the only fit forward for the Reds to have scored a Premier League goal in the past month. Diogo Jota scored in the 3-0 win over Brentford during the second weekend of November.

Luis Diaz netted the equaliser against Luton during the first weekend of November but he’s goalless since then in the English top-flight. Darwin Nuñez, perhaps surprisngly, is without a goal in the Premier League since October, while Cody Gakpo hasn’t found the back of the net since his equaliser against Spurs, in September.

Granted, the Dutchman was injured in that controversial defeat against Tottenham and he’s been in and out of the team ever since. He did find the back of the net in the Europa League but he wasn’t able to carry that goalscoring form into the Premier League. Diaz has had a difficult time away from the pitch and he’s been unlucky on it. He’s had a couple of goals ruled out, so you have to just assume he’s due one.

Darwin might be the unluckiest forward in the Premier League.

He’s hit the woodwork five times in the league this season and, unlike many top strikers, his Expected Goals on Target total is actually higher than his Expected Goals total for the season. What does that mean? Well, he’s actually adding value to his efforts. Yes, you read that right. While he’s often criticised for his erratic finishing, Darwin is actually improving the opportunities he has with the placement of his attempts. This metric alone actually highlights just how unlucky he’s been and why the criticism of him is a bit of an overreaction.

Yes, he’s missed chances, but he’s also been thwarted by uncharacteristically good saves.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 9, 2023: Liverpool's Darwin Núñez during the FA Premier League match between Crystal Palace FC and Liverpool FC at Selhurst Park. Liverpool won 2-1. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

An erratic and inconsistent Manchester United side might be the best team to get the attacking trio out of this goalless funk.

The Red Devils have lost three of their last five across all competitions have finished bottom of their Champions League group. Erik ten Hag is under pressure after seven defeats in just 16 Premier League matches.

United are the sixth lowest scorers in the English top-flight, with only Luton, Nottingham Forest, Burnley, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United scoring fewer goals this term. They rank 11th for Expected Goals too, which shows they haven’t been that much of a genuine threat. For context, Liverpool top the charts for this particular metric this term.

And while United have kept the same number of clean sheets as Liverpool (five), their underlying numbers don’t paint a picture of a defensively resolute side. They are ninth for Expected Goals Against (27) but have conceded just 21 goals.

So, Andre Onana has been doing well between the sticks, despite his high-profile mishaps. By comparison, Liverpool have conceded 15 goals from an Expected Goals Against total of 19.9.

Manchester United Manager Erik ten Hag applauds during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Luton Town at Old Trafford, Manchester, England on 11 November 2023.

Simply put, United haven’t been much of an offensive threat and defensively they are wide open. If rumours of changing room discontent is true, Ten Hag and his players could arrive at Anfield with no confidence and no belief they can take something from the game. The attackers could have a lot of fun and the game could be a repeat of the 7-0 last season.

However, there’s every chance the away side see this as a free hit and just give everything against Liverpool to make a statement.

If this is the case, chances will be at a premium and the forwards will have to make the most of their opportunities.

The latter scenario might help focus the likes of Diaz, Darwin and Gakpo. It could well benefit them and the Reds for the remainder of the season.

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