The Mané void
After Sadio Mané left to join Bayern Munich in the summer of 2022 the first few months of the subsequent season saw a barrage of social media posts insisting that Liverpool was missing their Senegalese talisman.
Back then those social media posts irked Liverpool supporters, and for good reason. Liverpool was not struggling to score – the Reds were struggling to defend. There was seemingly no Mané void at all.
But fast forward a year, and with Liverpool’s attackers on a barren streak, suddenly the picture looks completely different.
Mané’s true heir?
Luis Díaz may have arrived while Mané was still at Liverpool, but many have seen him as the direct replacement for the Senegalese winger. Immediately, after Díaz joined the club Mané was shifted into the middle by Jürgen Klopp and the Colombian became the club’s first choice left-winger.
Díaz’s promising start made him look like the perfect heir to Mané’s throne. He had the perfect balance of directness and speed – and was able to generate the same kind of energy on Liverpool’s left.
But two years later, Díaz still has looming question marks. He has scored just 11 Premier League goals, in 48 games. By comparison in his last five seasons at Liverpool, Mané scored 11 or more goals in every single campaign.
Based on those metrics, it’s difficult to argue in favour of Díaz having replaced a Mané void at Anfield.
But what if the Colombian was never intended to be the true heir to Mané’s throne? What if it was instead a certain Uruguayan who arrived at the same time Mané left?
Unlike Díaz, Darwin Núñez has never really been compared to Mané. But considering, the Uruguayan has been playing a fair few minutes on the left-wing, there is an argument to be made that in reality Núñez could be the true heir to Mané’s throne.
When it comes to the numbers, the Uruguayan is a lot closer to Mané’s averages for Liverpool. Especially, when we are looking at the underlying numbers and the amount of xG and chances accumulated by Núñez.
But purely, on the goal contribution alone, Núñez has averaged a goal or assist every 113 minutes for Liverpool in his career so far. This season he is averaging a goal or assist every 98 minutes.
In comparison, Mané averaged a goal or assist every 128 minutes during his career for Liverpool. And in his best season ever for Liverpool in terms of productivity Mané averaged a goal or assist every 109 minutes.
Núñez on the left
Although Núñez has played a big chunk of his minutes so far for Liverpool as a forward (2787 in total out of 3844), he’s actually been a lot more productive on the left-wing.
Overall, Núñez has played 1075 minutes for Liverpool as a left-winger. In that time he has averaged a goal or assist every 105 minutes averaging 0.61 goals per 90, and 0.26 assists per 90.
Meanwhile, as a forward, Núñez averages are lower. He scores a goal or makes an assist every 115 minutes and scores 0.45 per 90 minutes.
If we distil his numbers even further to just performances in the Premier League, the Uruguayan is even more prolific.
In the Premier League he has played 717 minutes on the left for Liverpool, and scored 6 out of his 14 goals while in that position – all the more impressive considering he has played less than 25% of his total minutes in that role.
Overall, on the left, Núñez has averaged a goal or assist every 90 minutes in the league for Liverpool, and he’s scored a goal 0.75 per 90 and assisted 0.25 per 90. In comparison as a forward, he’s averaged a goal or assist ever 145 minutes in the league averaging a goal 0.35 per 90 minutes and an assist 0.26 per 90 minutes.
A future on the left?
Recently, Klopp has deployed Núñez on the left in games against Arsenal and West Ham and the Uruguayan seemed to bounce back to form.
He came on against Arsenal with less than half an hour to go, and ended up completing the most dribbles (2) for Liverpool, while winning four out of five duels. Meanwhile, against West Ham, he won the most duels on the pitch (8), created the second most chances (5) and won the most tackles (4) for Liverpool.
Given that Díaz is struggling to make an impact at the moment with just one goal contribution in his last 8 games, moving Núñez to the left could be a solution.
Coming in from the left, there is less pressure on Núñez to score. He is also able to cut onto his favoured right foot and angle some absolute scorchers into the far corner of the net. Recently, Núñez has made those finishes his trademark. Out of his last 10 goals for club and country, five were scored from the left, two were scored inside the six yard box, and three were scored from the right.
The case for him to play on the left based on those numbers is evident, especially with Diogo Jota coming back, who is more than capable of playing through the middle. But Mohamed Salah leaving for AFCON in January could complicate things on that front.
It may be that we won’t see Núñez playing on the left until Salah returns. But when the Egyptian does come back, there is a genuine case for Liverpool’s no.9 to become Klopp’s first choice left-winger.