Darwin Nunez at Liverpool prompts a question: Can a 20-goal striker still be a ‘flop’?

Will Ford
Nunez Liverpool

Darwin Nunez is a goalscorer currently scoring goals for Liverpool, so why does he still look as though he could be a MASSIVE flop?

“His numbers are actually scary!” said Jamie Carragher as he likened Nunez to Fernando Torres, before fellow pundit Thierry Henry drew comparisons with Luis Suarez. The £85m man has scored seven goals for Liverpool this season, one every 106 minutes. ‘Scary’ is perhaps an adjective we should be reserving for Erling Haaland – he’s scored a goal every 57 minutes – but Nunez’s scoring rate would have pleased Torres or Suarez.

And yet, comparing Nunez with either of those Anfield predecessors feels like a big old stretch. Though it’s an admittedly small sample size, nothing Nunez has done in his three months in the Premier League suggests he will ever be able to outstrip or even match those supremely talented strikers, in the eyes of the neutral at least.

Despite being on course to score 2o-plus goals in his debut season, Nunez is a blank, a bad touch or a spurned chance away from social media flop status, and even for those of us willing to wait and reserve fair judgement, floppiness remains a tantalising possibility.

Since his equaliser against Fulham on the opening day – at which point it was thought he may still be able to hold a candle to Haaland – Nunez’s winner against West Ham has been the only goal that’s made a material difference to Liverpool, with the others coming in comfortable Champions League wins and the 3-2 defeat to Arsenal.

It’s a fine line of course, and this article would not have been written had Nunez scored the winner at Anfield on Saturday rather than Crysencio Summerville. But he didn’t. Instead he scored the second goal of a Champions League victory already claimed.

Still, it’s too early to judge, and even those who have cast aspersions over his Liverpool career thus far have been balanced by those who believe he’s proven himself to be a worthy signing. Certainly few could contend with him being a very watchable striker.

But the sort of strikers who could just as easily score an overhead kick as completely miss the ball and end in a crumpled heap don’t tend to be associated with those at the very highest echelons of European football; Christian Benteke left Liverpool a while ago now.

Nunez is always involved and has what’s often called the ‘gift’ (that can actually be taught) of being in the right place at the right time.

Sometimes he’s in the wrong place at the right time, but always shoots, which explains why he leads the way for shots per 90 minutes in the top five European leagues with 6.67. Aleksandr Mitrovic is the next highest in the Premier League with 4.60.

In that sense, particularly with a change of tack which has seen Liverpool swing increasingly more crosses into the box, Nunez is arguably the ideal striker for them. They create a lot of chances and he gets on the end of them.

Sure, it would be great if he finished more of those chances, but a more technically proficient striker is unlikely to be as perfectly positioned, with Nunez’s role shaping him to be the sort of striker who scores goals because of his battles, and misses just as many – if not more – because off those same battles that others might dodge.

That can make Nunez look a bit of a lummox, but someone with perhaps a better first touch or laser-like shooting accuracy wouldn’t be in amongst it to the same degree, sparing themselves a kick or three from a centre-back and potential embarrassment at missing what looks like a simple chance.

But Nunez has made it look simple through the hard work done before the key moment: a run to the back post then the front; using his body to manoeuvre an opposition player; dummy movements; rib digs. Miss a chance and it’s the missed chance we care about, but there’s a reason he was there to miss it.

But that’s by the by in the flop stakes. The flop police certainly pay no mind to the skill required to be on the end of chances. And maybe it doesn’t actually matter how many goals a striker scores? Is it the goals-per-shot ratio they care about? What if Nunez scores one worldie before missing two sitters? What if he only scores tap-ins?

There’s not really another example of a flop scoring 20 goals. Dimitar Berbatov was far from a rip-roaring success for Manchester United despite notching that number in 2010/11, but his highlights reel would feature some unbelievable touches or pieces of skill to pair with the goals to dispel floppy accusations.

Nunez has the tropes of a typical striker flop and 20 goals this season may not be enough to save him. Although maybe it’s our perception of who’s flop-worthy that needs to change.