Slowly but surely, Darwin Núñez respects and thanks Liverpool

Darwin Núñez is close to equaling Erling Haaland in a vital statistic.

By Emmanuel Mendez

Darwin Núñez is close to equaling Erling Haaland in a vital statistic.
Darwin Núñez is close to equaling Erling Haaland in a vital statistic.
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Darwin Núñez delivered a frustrating cameo in Liverpool’s recent 3-1 defeat at Arsenal. The Reds’ trustiest shot machine only had one goal attempt after coming off the bench in the 58th minute, making this only the third time he’s not reached the two-shot mark in a Premier League game when playing over half an hour. To make matters worse, Núñez’s decision to shoot was a poor one when time was running out and his side were desperately searching for an equalizer.

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His effort from the right of the box was valued at a paltry 0.04 expected goals by Understat, just 0.02 by FBRef. It was at best a one-in-25 chance for an average finisher, and unfortunately the Uruguayan has yet to prove he’s even at that level for Liverpool. Had he been alone in attack it would have been understandable to shoot, but Luis Díaz, Harvey Elliott and Diogo Jota were all in the center of the penalty box, hoping for a cutback.

They all made their frustration clear to varying degrees when the ball was blasted into the Emirates stand, and rightly so. Even if we were to leave all these factors aside when analyzing Núñez’s choice in that moment, one thing is abundantly clear: the chance did not have the style of build up from which he is traditionally successful.

TifoFootball’s Jon Mackenzie has recently been conducting research into how many touches Premier League forwards take before having shots. With help from Dominic Haynes of University Campus of Football Business, he found that 60 per cent of open play Premier League goals over the last three seasons were scored with one touch, hitting the ball first time with a further 20 per cent only requiring a second touch and no more. Liverpool has provided plenty of examples this season of goals which do not fit this criterion and there’s some impressive and important strikes among the collection. Dominik Szoboszlai took two touches before a third unleashed his thunderbolt against Leicester City, while Conor Bradley used the same number to notch his first senior goal for the Reds, against Chelsea.

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A different panorama

The good news is that he is generally taking chances in this fashion. Mackenzie shared some data which showed Núñez has taken 77.8 per cent of his shots with one or two touches in 2023/24, just shy of Erling Haaland’s 80 per cent rate. While it’s impossible to be certain from the available statistics, the likelihood is that with Núñez’s extreme shot volume he has taken the most one-or-two touch efforts in the Premier League this season. Goals may not be guaranteed to follow, as he has shown, but at least Núñez is generally going in the right direction to try to ensure they do. It's up to his teammates to aid the Uruguayan in taking shots at the first time of asking.

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