Your opinion of Darwin Nunez may depend on whether you support Liverpool or not. For fans of other clubs, the Uruguayan is a figure of fun, frequently squandering the simplest of chances. Compilations of his misses in his first pre-season friendly for Liverpool went viral, and such sophisticated banter is very hard to shake off.
But ask Reds supporters about him and the responses will largely be very positive. Sure, they’d prefer it if he wasn’t so wasteful in front of goal, but Nunez brings pace, power and unpredictability to Liverpool’s front line. Mohamed Salah won’t be around forever and the Reds’ attack will inevitably lack an X factor when his time on Merseyside draws to a close.
But is Nunez the man who can replace Salah’s remarkable output? Is he a king of chaos or a clown of confusion? Here’s a look at the cases from both sides for the Uruguayan.
Against: Can’t Hit A Barn Door
The obvious Nunez negative is his finishing. If you look up his record since 2019, you will find that he has scored 4.2 goals fewer than expected in all competitions for which they hold data. Spread that across his close to 200 appearances and that level of underperformance doesn’t look too bad. A hat-trick this weekend and he’d almost reach par.
However, it looks a lot worse when you break it down by season. In 2021/22, the campaign in which Nunez convinced Liverpool to make him their record signing – assuming all add-ons are met, which may not be the case – he scored 10.5 goals more than expected. He overperformed against his expected goals by almost 50 per cent and that was never going to be sustainable, as has been proven during his time with the Reds.
What makes Nunez even more frustrating is the way he can score remarkable strikes from long range, as he did at Bournemouth and Burnley earlier this season, but waste golden opportunities which your nan would probably score.
Opta has a metric called Big Chances, which are basically those shots where you would expect the attacker to score. Opportunities where they have a clean route to goal with no defenders pressuring them, that sort of thing.
Anyway, since the start of 2011/12 there have been 58 players who’ve had at least 50 of these high-quality chances, excluding penalties. Nunez is one of them, but he’s rock bottom in terms of conversion rate, with his 23.5 per cent success rate markedly below the league average of 38.1.
Salah is just outside the top 20, but his 43.6 per cent conversion rate is approaching double what Nunez has delivered. The Egyptian is also third in terms of total non-penalty Big Chances in this period, behind only Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero, so he has remained strong over a huge sample. Nunez has a long way to go to become Liverpool’s next finishing king.
For: He Makes Liverpool A Better Team
Considering Liverpool earned their fewest points since 2015/16 in Nunez’ first season with the club, suggesting he makes them a better team might feel like a bit of a stretch. A player can only affect results when they are on the pitch, though, and looking at when the former Benfica man has played tells a different story.
With Nunez present in all competitions, the Reds have scored 118 goals and conceded 53, meaning his individual goal difference works out at +1.33 per 90 minutes. This is 0.72 better than it has been for the Reds when he has been on the bench or in the stands.
This is the biggest difference between with-and-without for any of the 34 Liverpool players who’ve amassed at least 2,000 minutes since the start of 2017/18. We could break down the underlying xG numbers but they tell the same tale, with Nunez top again.
But the real difference comes with the Big Chances category, even if Nunez is hugely wasteful with them himself.
Since the start of last season, Liverpool have averaged 2.5 per 90 minutes without the Uruguayan but 3.6 when he plays. Using Nunez turns the Reds from a very good attacking team into an elite one that will expect to net a few against Burnley on Saturday at Anfield.
As well as having your view possibly determined by which team you support, your opinion of Nunez will also vary depending on whether you focus on individuals or the fact football is a team sport.
If you like goal-scorer bets, Nunez is too erratic to select regularly, but if you want to have a flutter on whether Liverpool will score a certain number of goals in a game, win a match, or even lift the Premier League trophy, then the 24-year-old’s presence is beneficial to your chances.
Nothing is ever straightforward where Darwin Nunez is concerned.
*All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widgets, while odds in copy are accurate at time of publishing but subject to change.
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