Why is Marcelo Bielsa getting more out of Darwin Nunez on the international stage?

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Darwin Nunez’s hatrick for Uruguay in a friendly against Mexico took his recent international tally to eight goals in five games. This return is in stark contrast to Nunez’s 11 goals in 36 league games this season.

In short, there has been a noticeable difference in the forward’s productivity in front of goal while away on international duty, which begs the question, why is Nunez more prolific when wearing the blue of Uruguay and not the red of Liverpool? 

The short answer is Marcelo Bielsa, and the longer answer is tactics. 

Bielsa has a history of turning water into wine

To start with, it’s worth considering that under the Argentine’s influence, Leeds United’s Patrick Bamford was able to earn an England call-up. 

The match against Andorra in September 2021 was Bamford’s one and only England cap, but it was proof that Bielsa could turn clinically wasteful strikers into the most prolific in the country. 

Tellingly, the Englishman scored 17 goals in the 2020/2021 Premier League season, but following Bielsa’s departure from Elland Road shortly after that campaign, Bamford has only managed 17 goals in all competitions in three years. 

Form or influence?

Of course, there is an inescapable truth in football that players enjoy purple patches and that the most in-form strikers today won’t necessarily be considered as such in six months’ time. This is a fact of life; time moves on, and things change. 

At least, just as a list of the best cars evolves over time, so too do the rankings of smartphones or even the top-rated slot sites, with newer providers likely to emerge in the future. While these examples vary, the broader point remains: fads come and go, much like a player’s form.

However, in this case, you can’t look at that drop-off in goals and not attribute Bamford’s success to Bielsa. If you still had any lingering doubts, you only need to look at what’s happening with Nunez now to see that Bielsa’s system suits those who often need more than one good chance to score.

Nunez’s need for a clear-cut chance 

Indeed, Bielsa’s teams often dominate the expected goals (xG) table by virtue of how many big chances they create during a game. During the campaign where Bamford scored 17, Leeds finished the season ranking sixth in the league for the number of big chances created; an astonishing stat for a newly promoted side.

Crucially though, it is the type of chance that Bielsa’s team creates with wide players flooding the box during an attack. At times, this approach makes the Argentine’s football somewhat predictable, as the opposition knows what to expect. However, failing to deal with the barrage of low crosses into the box often leads to a tap-in in an empty net for his attackers; step forward Bamford and Nunez.

Indeed, it was telling that Nunez’s hat-trick against Mexico was scored without having a goalkeeper to beat; with all his finishes into an unmanned net, the heavy lifting had already been down owing to the width Bielsa’s team created after stretching the opposition. 

This is certainly not to say that these players can only score when no one is home, but that if you play in a Bielsa side, the goals you score rely more on being in the right place at the right time rather than being a generational finisher. 

Which version of Nunez will Slot get?

So, how will Nunez fare in Arne Slot’s system? The reality is that he may not be included in it after a disappointing end to the season saw him fallout with Liverpool fans; the Uruguayan deleted all his Liverpool pictures on Instagram before reporting for international duty. At present, it’s hard to know his or the club’s frame of mind.

However, you can imagine that Slot won’t want to pass up the opportunity of having an in-form Nunez leading the line while he looks to get his Liverpool tenure off to a positive start. 

This is a development to watch over the summer as Nunez resurrects his Anfield career while being on the other side of the world. 

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