How do you solve a problem like Darwin Nunez? Liverpool’s response to that dilemma has now been illustrated with the move to sign Cody Gakpo on a £37million transfer from PSV Eindhoven – a deal so quietly and efficiently completed that the Dutch striker will be signed and sealed at Anfield could as soon as the winter transfer window officially opens on Sunday.
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It’s certainly a surprising transfer considering Liverpool clearly need reinforcements in midfield and when all options are available manager Jurgen Klopp already has a strong hand in terms of attacking players. Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino are all currently sidelined with injuries of varying degrees of severity but if they are fully fit, adding them to a group that also includes Mohamed Salah, Fabio Carvalho and Nunez will provide regular selection headaches . even before Gakpo is included in the equation.
Gakpo will be Liverpool’s third significant attacking signing in 12 months, with Diaz arriving from Porto last January and Nunez completing a club-record transfer worth up to £85million in June. Sadio Mane has joined Bayern Munich during this period and the Senegalese international was a huge loss for Liverpool, but that departure was offset by Salah signing on a new three-year contract in July.
So why does Liverpool need Gakpo, the young Dutch forward who became the star of the World Cup by scoring three goals for the Netherlands on his way to the quarter-finals?
The answer, or at least much of it, revolves around Nunez and his rocky start to life in Liverpool.
Nunez could see Gakpo’s arrival in two ways. Gakpo, 23, will either be someone to help ease the scoring burden in Klopp’s side or a threat to Nunez’s place in the side after a difficult first half at the club that promised more than delivered.
Time will tell but Gakpo will hope his early days at Anfield are more compelling than those of Nunez, who is now on the brink, caught up in a battle for confidence and in search of goals.
Nunez can still claim the support of Klopp and the Liverpool fans; Criticism of his performance is currently only from the outside. From a Liverpool perspective, Nunez makes up for his lack of goals with an incredible workload for the team and an apparent desire to get through the difficult times he’s going through.
But there are very few examples of Premier League forwards doing well after a difficult start with their new teams after a big move. Either they’re in full swing and not stopping to score – Salah, Erling Haaland, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Arsenal; Diego Costa at Chelsea; Robin van Persie at Manchester United – or start badly and never score, which is true for players like Timo Werner, Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata (Chelsea), Andy Carroll (Liverpool) and Wilfried Bony at Manchester City.
The one obvious exception is Firmino, who has scored just one goal in his first 24 games for Liverpool after his £29m move from Hoffenheim in 2015. Since then, Firmino has become an undisputed Liverpool legend with his goals and performances, but there aren’t many who can say they turned a difficult situation in much the same way as the Brazil international.
Statistically, Nunez has fared far better than Firmino in his first six months at Liverpool. In fact, his goal record is more impressive than you might have believed.
In 20 games in all competitions, the 23-year-old has scored nine goals and provided four assists but it’s the missed chances that have seen the forward take the spotlight. Chances regularly fall in his way, but poor decision making and finishing have resulted in some glaring misses, raising the age-old question for a striker of whether it’s a good sign that he gets chances or a bad one that he doesn’t is I don’t take enough of it.
Nunez has expected goals (xG) of 5.9 in the Premier League this season, which puts him eighth overall between Newcastle’s Callum Wilson and Leeds United’s Rodrigo. Manchester City’s Haaland sits in first place with an xG of 11.1.
However, too much emphasis on xG can be misleading. Salah’s xG is 7.9, not significantly better than Nunez’s. But Salah never looks as rushed and rushed as Nunez when he has a chance to score, and his ability to score ‘difficult’ goals – goals in tight games that prove crucial – is unmatched by any striker, including Haaland.
Nunez has only scored one ‘difficult’ goal for Liverpool – winner in October’s 1-0 win against West Ham – so he needs to deliver more often in the big games when the odds are high and the value of goals is high so much higher
But in the two games he has played since the World Cup closed – against Man City in the Carabao Cup and Aston Villa in the Premier League – Nunez has shown signs of his confidence in front of goal, which has been marred by his decision to shoot at goal-scoring positions instead of passing.
Such a pass saw Salah score in the 3-2 defeat at the Etihad, but there have been other instances at Villa where a shot on target would have been a better course of action.
If that becomes a trend and Nunez shy away from shooting, a striker worried about missed chances is of no use to anyone so Gakpo’s arrival will at least give Liverpool some insurance against Nunez’s confidence which is beginning to melt away.
However, Nunez is now entering a key phase in his Liverpool career. He needs to persevere and hope he comes off well like Firmino did, but big clubs don’t have much patience for strikers who don’t score enough goals. The signing of Gakpo is proof of that.
https://www.espn.com/soccer/liverpool-engliverpool/story/4838793/liverpool-signing-cody-gakpo-piles-the-pressure-on-darwin-nunez Liverpool’s signing of Cody Gakpo piles the pressure on Nunez