It is difficult to understand that a team that played every possible match last season and was fighting for the quadruple, has fallen so low in the pecking order this season. Liverpool’s decline is difficult to understand, as Jurgen Klopp’s side are in an unusual position in mid-table. Warning sirens sounded as Liverpool’s Premier League season began. Many things were expected to improve with each passing game, but the Reds’ season continued to fall apart at every turn.
Liverpool are eighth in the table with 19 points from 13 matches. They have won five, drawn four and lost four. It is this inconsistency that must have disappointed his supporters. At the end of week one, they beat defending champions Manchester City and at the end of the second week, they lost against bottom-placed Nottingham Forest. With more than two-thirds of the season left, Liverpool can still salvage something from this disappointing league campaign, but it’s strange to see them where they are.
At the start of the campaign, Liverpool were expected to fight for the Premier League title with Manchester City. However, things haven’t gone according to plan for the Reds. While Man City have maintained their position near the top of the table, Liverpool have dropped deep. It is very doubtful that Liverpool will go on the same winning streak as in the second half of last season. However, an unusual winter World Cup would significantly disrupt this season. As a result, anything can happen when leagues across Europe resume in December after a month-long break.
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Why did Liverpool sign the centre-forward?
Liverpool paid a huge sum to land the 23-year-old Uruguayan from Benfica in the summer. He was an exciting addition to a high-flying Reds squad. Many pundits believed that the one area in the pitch where Liverpool had missed out last season was in the front. Klopp has used Roberto Firmino as a make-shift centre-forward for the past few seasons. However, Firmino was played more as a false nine rather than an out-and-out goal hunter.
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Despite Firmino’s incredible work rate and good link-up play, his lack of goals was proving to be a problem for the Reds. He has scored a total of 106 goals for Liverpool in 347 games and has 78 assists to his name. While these numbers are not bad, they are neither good enough for a centre-forward from a club that is competing across Europe on all fronts. Therefore, many pundits and supporters urged the Anfield club to sign a proper number nine and with the arrival of Núñez their wish was fulfilled.
How has the signing of Darwin Nunez affected Liverpool’s overall setup?
Darwin Nunez is not yet a prolific goal scorer, however, he has the potential to become a world class striker one day. The huge transfer fee Liverpool spent on Nunez was not only for the present but also for the future. However, his arrival has forced Klopp to change his system to fit the Uruguayan in the starting XI. It is the first time in a long time that Klopp is playing with an out-and-out striker. Klopp had done this in the past with Divock Origi, however, the Belgian was never able to establish himself in the team and thus the German coach used Firmino in that role.
Over the past few seasons, he has also played Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane, who has departed for Bayern Munich, is on top in that role. This has helped Klopp maintain liquidity going forward. The versatile front three wreaked massive havoc in opposition’s defenses as Liverpool developed into a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League. Mohamed Salah was the only constant on the right wing, while Mane and Luis Diaz played normally on the left, with Jota battling for the false nine spot with Firmino.
Another advantage of having a makeshift centre-forward in the false nine position is it allows the striker to drop deep and link up play with the midfield. This in turn enabled Salah or Mane/Diaz to score runs behind the opposition’s defence. Firmino was good enough to pick up those passes and was equally astute to make several dummy runs to draw defenders down with him, creating space at the back for Salah or Mane/Diaz. However, the arrival of Núñez has created a small problem for the Reds in this aspect.
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How does Uruguay fit into the system?
Unlike Firmino, Núñez does not normally drop deep to receive balls and instead plays as the Reds’ most advanced forward. This meant that Salah and Diaz – before their injuries – often had to create chances for the Uruguayan rather than scoring ahead of themselves. This has seen those two attackers go wide on opportunities to move centrally forward. To fix this problem, Klopp is trying to play in a 4-4-2 system this season. Not in the traditional 4-4-2 style but with a diamond midfield when needed.
This has allowed Mohamed Salah to play alongside Núñez up front at times. While Salah can be a real force in the middle, Misri is more lethal when he is cutting inside from the right flank – something Anfield crowds have witnessed over the past few seasons. It goes without saying that the change in system and size has started affecting his attacking play. This is evident from the number of goals scored by the Reds so far. Liverpool’s 23 league goals in 12 games isn’t a bad return, but they scored an astonishing 94 from 38 last season – a tally that the Reds look unlikely to reach this campaign. It is too early to write off Klopp’s new system, but the truth is that it is taking longer than expected to deliver the desired results.
— Darwin Nuñez (@darwin99) November 6, 2022
How has Darwin Nunez fared for Liverpool?
It’s still early days for Darwin Nunez at Anfield, so not much can be made of his indifferent start to the season. It has had its ups and downs. At the start of the season, Núñez received a straight red for headbutting Crystal Palace defender Joachim Anderson. That silly offense cost them three matches – one that could have been avoided. When he returned, Núñez contributed on a few occasions to get the Reds out of trouble.
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He has scored a total of seven goals in 17 matches so far this season. Not a bad return in his first campaign in England. Breaking down the numbers further, Nunez has three Premier League goals in nine games, three Champions League strikes in six games and one in the Community Shield. Even if many attackers blame Nunez for Liverpool’s problems in the third, the numbers suggest the Uruguayan is not the main issue. However, the system Klopp is adopting to fit Nunez in is not yet foolproof, so the Reds have not been able to reach the heights of the past few seasons.
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Another big reason for Liverpool’s poor form this season has been the number of injuries they have suffered, especially in the middle of the park. At one time or another, almost every one of their midfielders suffered injuries. Starting with captain Jordan Henderson, Curtis Jones, Calvin Ramsay and Harvey Elliott had their issues. Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arthur Melo have been regular absentees, while the Reds most notably missed Thiago Alcantara.
The absence of a player like Thiago can be a big problem for any team. Thiago, known for pulling the strings through the middle of the park, has often been the bridge between defense and offence. His playmaking ability allows the Spaniard to direct the play and become the team’s main orchestrator. This makes the job of other players easier. A player like Thiago is rare to find, so the task becomes extra difficult when a player gets injured, which has been one of the biggest concerns for Liverpool.
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Jurgen Klopp didn’t have an equal-replacement for the Spaniard. They had players with good workhorses and pace but lacked Thiago’s vision when it came to providing passes that could split the opposition’s defense or retain the ball under pressure. To make matters worse, several of Klopp’s other midfielders were injured at the same time that Thiago was on the sidelines. Furthermore, those who were playing were nowhere near their normal best. Fabinho is an example of this, as he failed to reach the heights of his last season.
Some of these ongoing issues were predicted earlier by a section of experts and supporters. Let us tell you that Thiago is already 31 years old and has often been out of action due to injuries. Therefore, it begs the question why Liverpool spent big on a centre-forward rather than splitting the funds on midfield and attack. Fabinho is 29, Henderson is 32 and James Milner, who also plays as a midfielder at times, is 36. Not only have Liverpool struggled for goals and game control from their midfield, but aging feet could soon become a problem for Klopp. In the near future.