When strikers speak of the art of goalscoring, they talk about getting into good positions to receive golden opportunities – the rest, the saying goes, will take care of itself.
In that regard, Darwin Nunez is as good as they come – the Uruguayan seemingly a magnet for being in the right place at the right time, whether playing off the left flank or through the middle.
But his poor goal return, relative to the chances afforded to him, must be a real concern for Jurgen Klopp – even a head coach who has made a living out of a tactical philosophy that requires no out-and-out striker still needs a reliable route to goal.
Will Nunez’s lack of composure in front of goal ultimately cost Liverpool the title?
Right Place, Right Time, Wrong Man?
Even though the Reds occupy a lofty position in the Premier League standings, sports betting sites still make Manchester City their odds-on favourites to successfully defend their crown. Even operators like bet365 and Pinnacle Sports, known for the generosity of their prices in their various jurisdictions around the globe, give a best price of 8/11 on the Cityzens.
The know-how of Pep Guardiola’s men, allied to the quality in their ranks now that Kevin de Bruyne has returned from injury, are the key factors behind this bookmaker positioning, but there must also be doubts that Liverpool have got what it takes to sustain their outstanding form from the first half of the season.
Which brings us back to Nunez, who sits fourth in the Premier League standings for the xG metric – that is to say, only three players (including Mo Salah) in the entire division have had better accumulative goalscoring chances than the 24-year-old.
1 – Despite only coming on in the 56th minute, Darwin Núñez had the highest xG (0.76), the most touches in the opposition box (12), completed the most dribbles (3) and had the joint most shots (4) of any Liverpool player tonight, as well as assisting both goals. Exuberance. pic.twitter.com/3kYejjD1Mm
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 10, 2024
But his relatively meagre return of seven goals is placing increased pressure on those around him, which between now and the end of the season will mean a huge burden on the shoulders of Salah, whose injury problems caused by his AFCON obligations may just set him back.
It’s not churlish to suggest that unless Nunez finds his goalscoring boots, the Reds face an uphill battle keeping City at bay.
For context, Nunez’s seven goals have come from an xG count of 10.9.
Compare and contrast that to Diogo Jota’s eight goals from an xG of just 3.6, which highlights just how predatory the Portuguese marksman is.
His ability to find the net from low-grade chances is a gift that Klopp needs to harness more prominently. According to WhoScored, Jota has made just five appearances as the central striker all season long as of the start of February, which seems a waste of his precision in front of goal.
Anfield nights are always special pic.twitter.com/XOmOGre71s
— Diogo Jota (@DiogoJota18) February 1, 2024
Nunez brings gifts from wide areas too – his determined running, his guile, and his work rate are a real asset on the left flank, where he brings attacking danger and a sense of responsibility defensively. To that end, the Uruguayan has as many Premier League assists as he does goals this term.
So Jota needs to be put front and centre, both literally and figuratively, to maximise Liverpool’s chances of lifting the Premier League trophy in May.