There has been an overreaction to Darwin Nunez's performance against Rangers
Nunez needs time to settle, but no one should kid themselves.
After a difficult start to life at Liverpool, Darwin Nunez was widely praised for his performance against Rangers on Tuesday night. The Uruguayan striker returned to the starting XI and led the line for Jurgen Klopp's team in a comfortable victory over modest opposition.
The Reds won 2-0 thanks to a brilliant free-kick from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah's second-half penalty. Nunez had several shots on target as he desperately tried to score after a spell out of the team.
Following the game, the striker, who joined Klopp's team from Benfica for a club-record fee, was praised by many for his movement. He was deemed unlucky, that on another night he may have scored a hat-trick, and commended for linking up well with his teammates.
Yet, this narrative doesn't help a striker who is clearly feeling the pressure. Darwin's performance was, at best, adequate. And there were more questions than answers from his display.
The over-the-top reaction to Nunez's performance against Rangers.
Several media outlets gave Nunez an 8/10 in their player ratings for his performance. These ratings aren't an exact science, but it is difficult to understand how one could look at his display and surmise that he was two marks from a perfect performance.
Firstly, the idea that Darwin was excellent in the game isn't backed up by the eye test or by statistics. The Uruguayan striker lost the ball more times than any other Liverpool player (5). He surrendered possession too many times against one of the weakest teams in the competition.
There were also other times where, while he didn't lose the ball, momentum stalled due to poor control.
Image via UEFA.
Darwin's performance against Rangers.
Meanwhile, his passing was generally poor - no Liverpool player had a worse pass completion rate (73 per cent). But the main issue was his shooting. The idea that Nunez was 'unlucky' not to score just doesn't stand up to any scrutiny.
The striker had six shots on the Rangers' goal and didn't come close to scoring with a single one of them. Allan McGregor, Rangers' 40-year-old goalkeeper, barely had to move to save any of Nunez's shots. Is this bad luck on Nunez's part, or bad finishing?
McGregor's best save of the night was when he stopped Diogo Jota's ferocious shot with a fingertip save. The ball moved so fast that it was only confirmed on the replay that the Scottish keeper had saved it. It was an excellent stop. Nunez, however, hit his shots straight down the middle of the goal.
For example, in this effort before half time, Nunez had time to pick his spot and aim for the bottom corner where McGregor wouldn't have been able to stop it. He fired the shot straight at the Rangers goalkeeper.
Nunez v McGregor.
McGregor may be a good goalkeeper, but he is also two months away from turning 41. It is fair to say he is not as agile as he was 10 years ago. So, a shot hit with power and precision aimed into either corner probably would've beaten him.
Yet, Nunez didn't appear to learn his lesson. He just kept shooting straight at goal, smashing the power button rather than opting for finesse. Most worryingly from a Liverpool perspective, he didn't lift his head and get a full picture of the goal and the 'keeper's positioning before striking the ball.
So, is this a question of a striker being unlucky? Should we praise Nunez for getting in the positions to take the shots? Or should we question why he continued to miss? Unfortunately for Liverpool fans looking to give their new player the benefit of the doubt, this is an elite sport. A €100m player will ultimately be judged by their output, not their intent.
We also must factor in that Liverpool were playing against Rangers, the Champions League whipping boys. Nunez won't have a better chance to score this season. If Salah had the same goal-scoring chances, Liverpool could've won 5-0.
Nunez might not be the player Liverpool thought they were getting.
Nunez started his Liverpool career in the perfect way. The Uruguayan came off the bench to score against Manchester City in the Community Sheild. He followed that by scoring against Fulham on the opening weekend of the Premier League season. But it has been a rocky spell for the striker ever since.
On his home debut, Nunez was sent-off for headbutting Crystal Palace defender Joachim Andersen. Since then, Klopp has been urging for fans and pundits to be patient as the 23-year-old integrates into the team.
"You saw how good a striker he is to be constantly in those situations. Everybody saw tonight that this will happen. So all good," Klopp said about the striker following the game, focusing on the positive aspects of the player's performance.
This is good management - praise the player but don't go over the top. (Klopp also substituted Alexander-Arnold off in the final minute to give fans at Anfield the chance to applaud the under-fire player).
But the difference between Klopp and the rest of us is that he must focus on the positives. He cannot say that his striker repeatedly missed goalscoring chances, lost the ball too easily and froze in the final third.
Yet, the Liverpool manager is no dummy. He appears to realise that baby steps will be needed to get the best from a striker who may not be on the level he was expecting when Liverpool signed him.
Nunez evidently needs time and patience to find his form. He is adjusting to a new league, a new country and a new team. And, if he keeps having six shots per game, he will, inevitably, score at some point.
But, at the same time, no one should kid themselves. There were arguably more red flags than reasons for celebration in his performance against Rangers.
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