Andrew Beasley: Núñez Stealth Strength Revealed by Liverpool Win

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Liverpool’s Forgettable Yet Overlooked Burnley Victory

Whatever Liverpool ultimately achieve in Jürgen Klopp’s final season, their 3-1 win over Burnley is unlikely to linger long in the memory, or feature heavily in the end of season DVD.

Yet in many ways it was one of the more thought-provoking matches of the campaign with several points of interest which were worthy of deeper investigation. The front three all scored without Mohamed Salah being one of them, for starters. The future’s bright for whomever is the next man in the Anfield hot-seat.

Photo: IMAGO

Overcoming Adversity

Liverpool also won despite having eight players out through injury, one suspended and one on compassionate leave. They began with a midfield trio which had never started together before switching to one with one previous start at half time, thanks to Trent Alexander-Arnold needing to be withdrawn.

His substitution also meant that the Reds’ back four in the second half was Premier League and Champions League winning on one side and Curtis Jones alongside Jarell Quansah on the other. Liverpool’s record when viewed through the prism of injuries shows how hard it is to win with so many players unavailable. The Reds’ previous victories with more than seven men out include matches featuring injury time winners, opposition own goals, a header from Alisson Becker and, weirder still, a strike from Nat Phillips. These are rarely optimum circumstances.

Liverpool League Record by Injuries Since Summer 2016

Injuries Games W D L Points Per Game
0 to 2 89 68 15 6 2.46
3 or 4 84 55 23 6 2.24
5 to 7 93 54 20 19 1.96
8+ 24 11 7 6 1.67

 

In terms of the players who actually did appear, there are many who deserve credit. Harvey Elliott won the club’s poll for player of the match, after delivering (effectively) two assists, while various assessment algorithms gave the award to Luis Díaz (Fotmob and WhoScored) or Andy Robertson (Sofascore). Valid choices all, but as is usually the case, it remains impossible to ignore Darwin Núñez.

The Phenomenal Work Rate of Núñez

The first place to start is with his phenomenal work rate, which was highlighted by former Red Neil Mellor on LFCTV this week. He noted that the 37 sprints the Uruguayan made was the most by a Liverpool player in a Premier League game this season.

It’s a tough figure to put into context, but when Sky Sports shared some sprinting data in November, Newcastle’s Anthony Gordon led the standings of the best player from each club with an average of 31 per 90 minutes. There won’t be many players recording 37 too often.

Darwin’s level of sprinting no doubt helped him to complete five progressive carries for the first time in 2023/24, while cumulatively carrying the ball a total of 113 yards towards the Burnley goal, another season high.

Núñez being Núñez, we can’t discuss his performance without a look at the chances he missed. Even in matches in which he scores there’s normally an opportunity spurned which you think he should have scored. It duly arrived in stoppage time against the Clarets, with Wataru Endō putting the number nine clean through, James Trafford proving equal to his shot.

Magnet for High-Value Opportunities

It’s obviously a pity he doesn’t score more but Darwin is simply a magnet for this kind of high value opportunity. Thirteen players other than Núñez have created at least two Opta-defined big chances for Liverpool this season and every single one of them has lined up at least one for the Uruguayan. Even two of the four men with a solitary big chance created have set up Darwin, with the exceptions being James McConnell (with 97 minutes played) and Ibrahima Konaté (a centre-back).

The shot with which Nunez added his name to the score sheet was far from a decent chance. Understat valued it at 0.06 expected goals, FBRef 0.10, but either way it was the placement of the shot which made the difference. It was a header, as were all four goals in the game; per Opta, it is only the fifth such match in Premier League history.

It was no surprise Diogo Jota got in on the act; only Harry Kane (18) and Erling Haaland (10) have scored more headed goals in the Premier League than the Portuguese forward (nine) since he moved from Molineux to Anfield. And while Luis Díaz isn’t a regular accumulator of headers, it was the closest from goal that he has scored for the Reds, so once he made contact a goal was inevitable.

Núñez’s Scoring Efficiency

With Núñez, it feels like no goal is inevitable. A closer look at his Premier League data reveals an interesting fact though. According to Understat, the 24-year-old has scored approximately 11 goals fewer than expected in the Premier League, if we disregard penalties (and he recently missed one of those too).

Photo: IMAGO

He is almost eight below par with his right foot – 10 goals from 17.81 xG – and a little over two behind average with his left (scoring three from 5.4 expected). But with his head, Núñez has four goals from 4.63 xG; Andy Carroll could never etc. Yes, he’s still underachieving, but by less of a margin than Sadio Mané did for the Reds with such chances and he was well renowned for scoring with his head.

If Damien Comolli still held sway in the Reds’ corridors of power, Liverpool players would now be instructed to aim aerial crosses towards Núñez. Thankfully analysis has moved past the methods he employed at Liverpool, but we do seem to have found a relative strength in front of goal for Darwin.

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