Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nuñez aren’t a traditional strike partnership but the potential is there for them to be a productive one.
In their last two appearances together, Darwin has two goals and an assist while Salah has a goal and an assist. Both have assisted one another, with the number 11 setting up the number nine for the winner against Newcastle United while the Uruguayan returned the favour for Liverpool’s third goal against Aston Villa.
If we’re being honest, Salah could’ve come away with three assists in the game on Sunday. He set the former Benfica man up on three occasions with Darwin hitting the post and bar before nodding narrowly wide in the second half.
The Reds posted a season-best non-penalty Expected Goal (NPxG) total too (2.47) and it is no coincidence that it happened in the game Darwin started.
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Prior to the game at Anfield, Liverpool had managed a measly 1.28 against Chelsea, 2.29 in the win over Bournemouth and a total of 0.88 at St James’ Park. The one big caveat to the haul against the Cherries is that 0.75 of that total was Salah’s goal as he tucked away the rebound having had his penalty saved. If we remove that, the total drops to 1.54.
When averaged out across their opening three matches, this comes to 1.23.
Against Villa, this was doubled.
This shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise. Though the Reds struggled last season for consistency, there was a period prior to the arrival of Cody Gakpo that Darwin and Salah had a string of starts together and this was when Liverpool were at their most dangerous. Just after the turn of the year, Jurgen Klopp’s side went on a winless run. Darwin missed two of the three matches and Salah’s output simply disappeared.
He managed just a single shot in each of the games against Chelsea, Brighton and Brentford. Liverpool just couldn’t get him into the game. Yet before this barren run, with Darwin causing chaos alongside him, he had five goal involvements in his last five appearances.
Klopp changed things after signing Gakpo. He changed things in April too, tweaking the system. Salah finished the season in fine form. In his final 15 Premier League appearances of the 2022/23 campaign, the number 11 scored 11 goals and chipped in with seven assists.
But the understanding between Darwin and Salah has always been an intriguing one. One that should further be explored.
Think about it, in the 3-1 Community Shield win over Manchester City, it was Salah’s cross to Darwin that eventually resulted in the penalty to put the Reds 2-1 up. In the 2-2 draw with Fulham, the former Roma man assisted the one-time Almeria man before the roles were reversed for the second goal. Granted, it was fortunate, the fact of the matter is Darwin was credited with an assist for the Salah goal.
Nuñez assisted Salah in wins over Everton and Spurs too. He also put it on a plate for the senior forward in the 3-2 loss to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup. Salah set up Darwin’s opener against Real Madrid in the eventual defeat.
This partnership could’ve been an even more fruitful one had both players not spurned so many chances last season. The duo missed 20 big chances each in the Premier League last term. Despite the narrative, it wasn’t all one-sided either. Salah missed opportunities created by Darwin too.
As detailed last week though, missed chances aren’t an issue. The positive is that there are chances to miss.
When Darwin and Salah are paired together, things happen.
The win over Villa was easily the latter’s best performance of the season and I know that things have been difficult due to Liverpool being down to 10 men in two of their opening three games, but he just looked much more of a threat, didn’t he? The away side didn’t help themselves but this isn’t a one-off. It has been the case ever since Darwin arrived on Merseyside.
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Liverpool’s numbers nine and 11 just work well together.
It might not always be pretty but does that matter?
Liverpool are a greater threat when those two are able to link up. Klopp will likely continue to treat it like a horses for courses situation in attack but the more often these two are paired together, the more dangerous the Reds will be.