Darwin Nunez’s Inevitable Rise In Form

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Written by Harry Siddle

With a combined 11 goals and assists from his first 18 games, Darwin Nunez is showing just how good he is after an up-and-down start to his Liverpool career. For many fans, there were question marks around the Uruguayan. Was he good enough? Can he replace Sadio Mane? What kind of player is he? The summer signing has become one of the more confusing players to work out. Despite his mixed start, his recent impressive output was of no surprise if you looked at his underlying numbers. 

Being called a ‘’raw’’ player by many pundits can be challenging to disprove when watching him.  Like the fans watching it seems like the man himself doesn’t know what he’s going to do next, with loose passes, touches and gangly dribbling making him look a bit confused at times. We can be confused but it’s hard to argue that that unpredictability is why he’s so interesting to watch. When he gets it right, as we saw against Southampton, his world-class potential is clear to see, and the most promising thing so far is the underlying numbers to his game love him.

‘We Have To Be Patient With Nunez!’ 

Whenever an attacker looks like they are struggling but the underlying numbers are great it usually means a natural regression to the norm is on the way. And in some cases an explosion in output, which in the case of Nunez, may just be happening. His expected goals and assists per 90 are incredible. With 1.36xg/xa90, 0.94xg90 and 0.42 xGA90, in the league so far those are elite numbers. Based on those numbers, with the shots he’s taking the stats expect him to score nearly a goal a game and assist every other game. Yes, those will most likely go down as he’s only played 612 minutes in the league but the number of shots and quality of shots he’s taking per game show how much of a threat he is. Nearly taking 6 shots per game in the Premier League and Champions League, almost 3 shots more than Salah a game might make some people think he’s desperate and shooting from ridiculous angles. From the image below, you can see that the majority of shots are taken in the box or around the 6-yard box, a theme that every top striker should have to get consistently good chances. 

His stats showed that the goals he was signed for were bound to happen and if he can maintain these elite levels, Liverpool fans have a lot to look forward to after the World Cup. 

Klopp’s recent change to Nunez’s position to the left winger/striker that Sadio Mane played so brilliantly for the reds may just suit him perfectly. Thankfully the 4-3-3 is back on the agenda and with Klopp using Nunez as the Mane role in the games against Spurs and Southampton, it looks like Nunez can play his natural game there. Although a very different player to Mane, Nunez’s ability to stretch defences and pull players out of position with his elite movement will prove fruitful against teams who try to defend deep against our front three. Some of the interplay and combinations between Nunez, Salah and Firmino were nearly as good as the famous front three before. Both he and Salah are amazing outlets for the team with their pace, power and ability to bring others into play which just makes Liverpool have multiple strings to their bow. 

Despite the positive signs and elite underlying numbers so far, Nunez’s rawness may cause problems for Klopp in the biggest games against the elite teams. The question mark about how coachable he is defensively is a real one as he still has a lot to learn off the ball to replicate anywhere near as good a job as Mane once did. At times he seems to be out of sync with when to press with other players and knowing the pressing triggers that are second nature to most players in the squad. Hopefully, it is just teething problems but along with Diaz, they need to improve this side of the game first to match what the Senegalese man once did so consistently. 

Despite there still being some teething issues defensively, and offensively Nunez’s recent performances have matched what his underlying numbers have been saying all season. If he can maintain these numbers and continue building chemistry and rhythm with Salah and Firmino we could be seeing something very special for the second half of the season. 

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