Darwin Núñez problem at Liverpool has only got worse amid worrying new comparison

Darwin Núñez' missed chances have cost Liverpool this season
Darwin Núñez' missed chances have cost Liverpool this season -Credit:Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Liverpool’s Premier League title challenge suffered a severe blow with a 1-0 loss to Crystal Palace on Sunday. One of the frustrating aspects of the result is that the Reds had enough opportunities to take something from the game.

"We caused problems and we had big, big chances," Jürgen Klopp said after the match. "If we stand here and win the game 4-1 we could have seen the same game with a completely different result. But we didn't so we have to take that."

Klopp was not wrong. His side had four Opta-defined big chances, moments where you would reasonably expect the attacker to score. They each fell for different players, with Darwin Núñez, Diogo Jota, Curtis Jones and finally Mohamed Salah squandering golden opportunities.

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The former’s issues with finishing are well documented but one particularly painful aspect of the issue has been costly in the last week. There is no way to sugarcoat the situation: when it comes to converting big chances, Núñez is buried at the bottom of the barrel.

Starting from the summer of 2011, there have been 53 players who have had at least Núñez's total of 57 non-penalty shots in the Premier League from which Opta expected them to score. They have collectively converted 41.4 per cent of them, a little above the average of 38.2 per cent.

Núñez isn’t just in last place for putting them away, but adrift. The Uruguayan’s hit rate of 22.8 per cent is almost seven behind Kai Havertz (29.7), while only Christian Benteke (31.3) and Danny Welbeck (31.7) are also within 10 per cent of the Liverpool forward. We can lower our sample size to find men who have been more wasteful than Núñez, but doing so brings up names like Oli McBurnie, Danny Graham and Cameron Jerome, lower-league players who deserve credit for reaching the top flight rather than $106m (£85m/€99m) signings for footballing institutions.

If these comparisons are not sickening enough, bear in mind that Núñez’s conversion rate for non-penalty big chances in all competitions this season is even worse: 18.6 per cent, with eight goals from 43 efforts. At a crucial time in games, the success rate drops further still.

Núñez has had five big chances when the Reds have been losing games in 2023/24, against LASK, Manchester City and Crystal Palace (both at Selhurst Park and Anfield), missing them all. While it’s unrealistic to expect a player to score every time, and there’s no way to know what would’ve happened had he put them away, Liverpool only took four points from the three league games and it would’ve been two had Harvey Elliott not scored in stoppage time in South London.

Núñez’s miss on Sunday was the Reds’ first big chance of the match, with the 24-year-old firing straight at Dean Henderson with the Kop end goal at his mercy. But at least his shot was on target; Núñez was clean through at 0-0 against Atalanta in the previous match and sent the ball wide of the goal frame. It’s hypothetical once again, but if Liverpool had taken the lead on Thursday, it’s hugely unlikely it would have lost by three goals, leaving its Europa League hopes hanging by a thread.

The Uruguayan has had the Reds’ first clear-cut chance in 12 matches this season but has only taken the opportunity twice (at Newcastle and Bournemouth). On top of the matches in the last few days and the aforementioned draw with City, another instance occurred at Luton, with another two hugely winnable points dropped that day.

Núñez scored four of his 14 first big chances last season, and 12 of 40 (30 per cent) in total. It was assumed his below-par finishing would pick up in year two, yet it has actually got worse. The cost has been made all too apparent in the last week.

Liverpool.com says: Liverpool supporters have grown accustomed to Núñez missing chances but as the only player to have taken at least 100 shots in the 2023/24 Premier League, it means it happens far too often. With Salah below par since returning from injury and Jota only just back in the side, the Reds needed Darwin to deliver when it mattered most. Unfortunately, he has fallen short.