Darwin Nunez has scored twice for Liverpool so far as he continues to miss a number of chances but Jurgen Klopp won’t be concerned.
It doesn’t want to go in, brother.” You could forgive Darwin Nunez for feeling frustrated following Liverpool’s 2-0 victory over Rangers on Tuesday night. The Reds might have returned to winning ways but it wasn’t to be the Uruguayan’s night in front of goal.
The 23-year-old did impress in Jurgen Klopp’s new-look front four, along with Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz, yet was repeatedly unable to find a way past Allan McGregor in the Rangers goal as his Anfield duck, while wearing Red at least, remains unbroken.
He’d register six shots against the Scottish giants on Tuesday night, more than any of his teammates and the same total as the whole Rangers squad combined. His joint-record total in a single match for the club, four hit the target, one was off-target and the other was blocked – no wonder he was caught on camera cursing his luck to Virgil van Dijk!
In truth, when you look back over Nunez’s chances against Rangers, he should have left the field with at least one goal to his name. Too often he lacked a little composure as he unleashed thunderous shots straight at McGregor.
Yet this has been a recurring trend during his stop-start Liverpool career so far. The striker boasts plenty of shooting opportunities but time and again sees such chances go to waste, increasing the opposing goalkeeper’s save totals without them really having to do much more than stand still to keep the ball out of the net.
Too many times fans have been going home, recalling his chances and thinking, “He should have scored that.” If it’s any consolation, he’ll inevitably be thinking the same. How different the league table could look, even for this out-of-form Reds side, if the former Benfica man had enjoyed as seamless a start to Premier League life as Man City’s Erling Haaland.
Of course, Nunez hasn’t been helped by trying to find his way in an injury-depleted, uncharacteristically low on confidence and out of form Liverpool. Adjusting to life without Sadio Mane as the striker himself adapts to his new surroundings, it was always going to take time for it to all click. His red card on his home debut against Crystal Palace and subsequent three-match ban inevitably didn’t help matters.
Coming off the back of the Uruguay international scoring from the bench in his first two appearances for the club, against Man City in the Community Shield and Fulham, his rhythm was disrupted and he hasn’t found the back of the net since. Yet even in those games, when registering eight shots from just 70 minutes of action, he saw good chances go begging.
From his eight appearances for Liverpool so far, only three of which have been starts, Nunez has recorded an impressive 29 shots. 12 of those shots have been on target with 12 off-target, two of which hit the woodwork, while five have been blocked.
Meanwhile, the Premier League has recorded him as missing four ‘big chances’ and boasting a 31% shot accuracy from his four domestic appearances, with five of his 16 league shots hitting the target and two hitting the woodwork.
In contrast, Haaland boasts 14 goals from eight Premier League matches, with 20 of his 33 shots hitting the target. Boasting a 61% shot accuracy, he has also missed four ‘big chances’, and been denied by the woodwork once.
Given their contrasting game-time, Nunez is roughly recording the same number of shots as the Man City forward yet has clearly not been as prolific. Hitting the target less and the woodwork more, alongside obtaining the same total of ‘big chances missed’ from half the number of appearances, it’s clear where Liverpool’s £64m man is falling short in comparison to the free-scoring Norwegian. But let’s be honest, you can’t compare any striker to the obscene form Haaland is demonstrating right now.
For Nunez, it really doesn’t want to go in, brother. But at least he’s getting in the right positions to miss such chances, with it more of a concern if he wasn’t boasting many shots on goal at all. As a result, it feels only a matter of time before his luck in front of goal will turn.
After all, his move to Anfield is just following familiar trends. At Almeria he endured a disrupted start as he returned just two goals from his first eight appearances. He then scored seven goals from his next six outings and finished the season with 16 goals to earn a move to Benfica.
Meanwhile in Portugal, Nunez suffered another disrupted start after testing positive for Covid-19. While he’d return an impressive five goals from seven Europa League appearances, including a hat-trick against Lech Poznan, he found life more challenging domestically and would return just six goals from 29 appearances in his first season in the Primeira Liga.
Yet last year, he’d score 34 goals in all competitions including 26 goals from just 28 league games to win the Portuguese Golden Boot. Historically the Uruguayan might need time to find his feet, but once he does there will be no stopping him.
And of course he is following in famous footsteps in the form of compatriot Luis Suarez. Now regarded as one of the finest finishers of modern times, it’s easy to forget the striker was initially wasteful at Anfield and regarded as a scorer of great goals rather than a particularly great goalscorer.
Making 13 Premier League appearances during his first-half season at Anfield after signing from Ajax in January 2011, he’d return four goals. Boasting 55 shots in total, he had a 42% shot accuracy with 23 of them hitting the target as he missed one ‘big chance’ and was denied by the woodwork three times.
His first season at Anfield saw him score 11 league goals from 31 appearances, hitting the target 48 times from his 128 shots (38% shot accuracy) as he missed 21 ‘big chances’ and hit the woodwork eight times. But then he became the Suarez we all remember.
He’d score 23 times from 33 appearances in 2012/13, hitting the target with 72 of his 187 shots (39% shot accuracy), as he missed 14 ‘big chances’ and hit the woodwork six times. Fast forward a year to his final season at Anfield as he won the Golden Boot, equalling the then-Premier League scoring record at the time, Suarez boasted 31 goals from just 33 appearances as 81 of his 181 shots hit the target (45% shot accuracy). Meanwhile, he again missed 14 ‘big chances’ while he was denied by the woodwork nine times.
It’s clear Nunez needs to improve his shot accuracy and be more clinical in front of goal. Yet both will come with his time as he grows more familiar with Klopp’s side and English football. He is only eight games into his Liverpool career after all, with Haaland’s superhuman efforts at the Etihad making his own returns look even more paltry.
But the signs are there that the goals will soon flow. The ball might not want to go in as he remains wasteful for now, but the 23-year-old is a work in progress. As long as he continues to get in the right positions and create chances, that won’t be the case forever.