Darwin Núñez needs more goals for Liverpool, but he is doing almost everything right and is almost on par with Erling Haaland in one crucial metric.
In Liverpool’s recent 3-1 loss to Arsenal, Darwin Núñez made a dismal cameo. This is only the third time in his Premier League career that the Reds’ most reliable shooter, who entered the game in the 58th minute, failed to meet the two-shot threshold while playing for more than 30 minutes. He only attempted one goal after coming off the bench.
To make matters worse, with time running out and his team desperately looking for an equalizer, Núñez made a bad decision to shoot. His effort from the right side of the box was only worth 0.02 by FBRef and a pitiful 0.04 predicted goals by Understat. The Uruguayan has yet to demonstrate that he is even capable of finishing at that level for Liverpool, so it was at most a one-in-25 chance for an ordinary finisher.
It would have made sense for him to shoot if he had been the only attacker, but Diogo Jota, Harvey Elliott, and Luis Díaz were all positioned in the middle of the penalty box, waiting for a cutback. When the ball was sent into the Emirates stand, they were all properly upset and expressed it to differing degrees. Núñez’s decision at that particular moment was not supported by the kind of build-up that has historically made him successful, even if we ignore all of these other considerations.
Jon Mackenzie of TifoFootball has been studying the number of touches Premier League attackers receive before being given a shot. With assistance from Dominic Haynes of the University Campus of Football Business, he discovered that during the previous three seasons, 60% of open-play Premier League goals were scored with a single touch, or hitting the ball first time. The remaining 20% of goals only required a second touch.
This season, Liverpool has produced several examples of goals that do not meet this requirement, including some noteworthy and spectacular goals. Conor Bradley utilized the same number of touches to score his first senior goal for the Reds against Chelsea, while Dominik Szoboszlai needed two touches before unleashing his thunderbolt against Leicester City.
Just as when Elliott scored the crucial winner at Crystal Palace and Mohamed Salah equalized against Arsenal, Jota used six touches to open the goal in the same game. The latter two, though, were low xG value opportunities, and Jota’s lone real chance came when he crashed through Chelsea’s defense with the ball.
But if Núñez hadn’t done anything unusual, he wouldn’t be Núñez. The 24-year-old took nine touches to score the game-winning goal in Liverpool’s Carabao Cup victory against Bournemouth, after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s ball. since you remember, this was not totally on purpose, since the fans at Vitality Stadium laughed at his initial lack of composure.
Though it was unintentional and remarkable, Núñez’s goal this season was the only one for which he required more than two touches. Of his 11 goals, six were first-time efforts, including a penalty against LASK. Though he has missed several excellent opportunities with only one touch, consider some of his greatest errors, like the time he dribbled past the Toulouse custodian before hitting the post. The former Benfica player needs to be taking shots with little to no personal build-up to succeed, which is not what he did at the Emirates Stadium last weekend.
The good news is that this is how he usually takes risks. According to data provided by Mackenzie, Núñez missed Erling Haaland’s 80 percent rate in 2023–24, taking 77.8% of his shots with one or two touches. Núñez has probably taken the most one-or-two-touch attempts in the Premier League this season due to his extraordinary shot volume, though it is impossible to say for sure with the statistics that are currently available.
As he has demonstrated, goals may not always come to pass, but at least Núñez is generally making progress toward making sure they do. It is incumbent on his teammates to assist the Uruguayan when he asks for help taking shots.