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Liverpool’s problem child: Did Darwin Núñez flop?



Liverpool FC are one of the underperformers in the Premier League - and Darwin Núñez may be one of the reasons why.  Sometimes he scores goals like a conveyor belt, then he misses a series of big chances in three games in a row.

Liverpool FC are one of the underperformers in the Premier League – and Darwin Núñez may be one of the reasons why. Sometimes he scores goals like on an assembly line, then he gives away a series of big chances. SPOX takes a look at the Reds’ problem child.

“Sorry if we missed a few orders tonight, we had this man in the starting XI,” pizza chain Domino’s Twitter account posted after Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat by Brentford on matchday 19 of the Premier League . Along with a picture of Darwin Núñez. If you look up his name on YouTube, you’ll find videos like “Every Missed Chance from Núñez.” The Reds forward has long since become a meme with his wasted chances.

Even Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp can’t always hide his frustration with Núñez’s deals. “We conceded the first goal when we were already 2-0 up,” he explained after the game, referring to two great chances, one of which Núñez had, “his shooting technique could have been better”. Is it really just his shooting technique? And how does this season’s shooting technique differ from his 34-goal season at Benfica?

Statistics also show obvious weaknesses in Núñez’s degrees: Loud Opta is the striker in the top 5 most expected goals awarded in the Premier League. He also gave up most of the big chances (15). Opta-Definition despite only appearing on the field in 13 Premier League games.

The competition in second place (12 big chances missed, after matchday 19) had three games more on the field – team-mate Mo Salah even four. In view of the high transfer fee of 75 million euros, the question arises: did Darwin Núñez flop at Liverpool?

The Haaland comparison is unfair

First of all, the basics have to be laid: The general assignment of a “flop” after half a year for a player who changed countries and appears in a top 5 league for the first time is rarely fair. Especially with young players – Núñez is only 23 – one usually assumes an adjustment period of between six months and a year when a change of country and language takes place.

The fee also inevitably leads to a comparison with Manchester City’s top transfer Erling Haaland. His 33 goals in the first 28 competitive games for the Citizens became the new benchmark for a star striker. Especially because of the low fee of only 60 million euros.

But this was due to an exit clause, otherwise Haaland would have cost significantly more than Núñez. Not everyone can buy this Norwegian – and he chose Pep Guardiola. In the Haaland comparison, even Kylian Mbappé currently has problems.

An “ugly attitude” caused the damper

Already after Darwin Núñez’s first two friendlies there were jokes about his technique, but he initially silenced them with a four-pack against Leipzig. Then his season started very successfully. Darwin Núñez scored in the Community Shield opener against Manchester City. On the first day of the Premier League against Fulham, he even added an assist to a goal, even though he was only a substitute.

But here the technical problems became apparent again: Three minutes after his goal to make it 1-1, he came freely in front of the goal, but then stumbled when receiving the ball. And his template for Mo Salah was actually a failed ball acceptance and not on purpose. In the next game against Crystal Palace then the moment of shock: After a head-to-head with the opponent, he saw the red card. “I’m aware of the ugly attitude I had,” he later wrote in an apology.

Then followed the first phase of weakness of the Liverpool striker. After the goalless dismissal, he didn’t score for five more games. Although he collected 2.0 expected goals in the time, for example through great chances against Everton or Rangers in the Champions League.

The turnaround that wasn’t

Then Núñez managed what looked like a turnaround: in ten competitive games before the winter break, he scored seven times and prepared another goal – even though he only collected five expected goals. So, suddenly, he exceeded expectations. But a disappointing 2-1 defeat by Leeds, in which Núñez once again missed a major chance, largely failed to recognize a strong phase of the season.

Although it initially looked after the World Cup as if the Uruguayan would maintain his strong form (two goals in the test against Milan, an assist in the EFL Cup against Manchester City), the big disappointment followed when the league restarted: a whopping four missed big chances against Aston Villa. Two more against Leicester. Another in a 1-3 smack against Brentford. In those three games alone, Núñez left loud Opta 2.67 expected goals on the course. His goal in the following cup game against Wolverhampton didn’t make up for that either.

That’s why Darwin Núñez is still a top striker

Was Liverpool’s scouting blinded by the number of goals they scored? That’s unlikely. Because although his 26 league goals in 2021/22 with only 18.4 expected goals definitely drove the price up, Núñez has completely different qualities than a strong shooting technique, which convinced Jürgen Klopp and Co. to buy.

At 0.66 goals per 90 minutes of play, Núñez is loud Opta still in the top 10 percent of strikers in Europe’s top 5 leagues, as well as the Champions and Europa League, despite the missed opportunities. If you ignore goals from penalties, he even moves up into the top 5 percent. This is mainly because he works out a strong 0.73 expected goals per game, top 2 percent in the comparison category.

His average 4.86 shots per 90 minutes is the absolute best in the peer group, no one shoots more. He doesn’t even get half of that on target, but 2.1 shots on target per 90 minutes are still in the top 2 percent due to the crowd (peak value: Kylian Mbappé with 2.27).

Darwin Núñez delivers what he promised

So the motto of Núñez’s degrees is: “Mass instead of class”. Together with the expected assisted goals, i.e. the quality of the preparations for a shot at goal, where he is also in the top 15 percent at 0.22 per 90 minutes, the picture emerges of a striker that does not even remotely resemble that of Haaland and Co .

Núñez’s strength and guarantee of success for his 34-goal season was not the end, but the creation of final situations, the scoring is distributed rather randomly. He continues to do that at Liverpool FC at a very high level. It may be unfamiliar and often frustrating, but his type of player has never been a secret. He was already goalless in 21 of his 41 competitive games at Benfica in 2021/22.

So the initial question of whether Núñez flopped or not shouldn’t even be asked. Liverpool FC have bought Darwin Núñez. And Liverpool just got this Darwin Núñez. Instead of placing the blame on the player, the question could be: did the Reds overpay for him? Or did the Reds buy the wrong type of player? But even if: That has nothing to do with the achievements of Darwin Núñez.