Can Darwin be the evolution of Mane for the Reds?


Much has been said about the money Liverpool are investing in Darwin Nunez.

The Uruguay striker arrives at Anfield for a fee that will likely end up surpassing his previous club record of £75million spent on Virgil van Dijk from Southampton in January 2018.

Benfica confirmed on Monday that they have agreed to sell Nunez to Liverpool for an initial fee of £64m (€75m), with an additional £21.4m (€25m) added. Liverpool provided their own confirmation on Tuesday.

The Merseyside club are likely to say goodbye to a key player at the same time, with Sadio Mane heavily linked with a move to Bayern Munich.

So can Nunez emulate what the Senegalese star was able to do at Liverpool, or can he even surpass him?

Stats Perform took a look at the 22-year-old to see what Liverpool could get for their money.

Is Nunez a replacement for Mane?

What seems to stand out above all else is that Nunez is signed primarily to score goals.

He may not have started running at Benfica after completing a €24m move from Almeria in September 2020, having scored just six times in 29 Primeira Liga games (19 starts) in 2020 -21, but he has more than made up for it this season. .

Nunez had an expected goals rating (xG) of 9.98 in his first season according to Opta, suggesting he wasn’t scoring as many as he should, which he nearly overcompensated for in 2021- 22 by registering 26 goals in 28 league games (24 starts). ) from 18.4xG.

By comparison, Mane – who is in the conversation for the 2022 Ballon d’Or – has scored 16 goals in 34 Premier League appearances (32 starts), an xG figure remarkably similar to Nunez (18.3). So, while the chances that have arisen have been of comparable value over the course of the season, the Uruguayan has proven to be much more clinical.

The relative difference in quality between the top flights in England and Portugal has to be taken into account, of course, but in the Champions League the duo also matched well.

Nunez has six goals in 10 appearances (six starts) from an xG of just 3.1, while Mane has five goals in 13 games (11 starts) from an xG of 4.5. Once again, the 22-year-old has proven to be a more reliable finisher of chances than the Senegalese star.

Whether Nunez can translate this to English football remains to be seen, but there are other interesting parallels between the two players that indicate they may not be as different as some seem to think.

In their respective leagues last season, Nunez and Mane also offered a similar degree of creativity. The former recorded four assists from a total expected assists (xA) of 4.8, while Mane had two 4.4 xA to his name, suggesting he was disappointed at times with poor finishing of his teammates.

Both players have also proven to be comfortable running the ball, attempting 86 dribbles each in the 2021-22 season, although Mane’s 54.7% success rate is significantly better than the 45, 4 of Nunez.

Of course, the main difference between the pair is the fact that former Southampton striker Mane mainly played on the left for Liverpool, while Nunez is mainly a centre-forward.

That shouldn’t be a problem though, given the Reds addressed this side of the pitch only a few months ago while shopping in a familiar market.

Primeira Liga? Done, friend

To the surprise of many, especially Liverpool, they were forced at the end of the January transfer window and signed Luis Diaz from Porto, so it’s a league they clearly know well.

Not that they hadn’t already intended to buy Diaz, but reports suggested the plan was to do so at the end of the season, only for an unexpected lead from Tottenham to get them through the deal. .

This proved a welcome necessity as Diaz started running and played a big part in Liverpool doing the almost unthinkable and winning an unprecedented quadruple.

However, with the Colombian taking on the role on the left of the attack, Mane was asked to play in an unfamiliar central position for the remainder of the campaign, albeit overall to impressive effect.

Nunez will be a bit more natural fit in this central role, and like Diaz hopes the transition from the Primeira Liga to the Premier League will be relatively seamless.

He has already shown in his two performances against Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals this season that he can cut it against English opposition.

In the first leg in Lisbon, Jurgen Klopp’s men lost 3-1, but Nunez scored Benfica’s goal and played well enough that Virgil van Dijk recently rated him as one of his toughest opponents. tough in an interview with Rio Ferdinand.

He arguably impressed more in the second leg at Anfield, when Van Dijk didn’t play. Nunez often retreated to the left and stretched the Liverpool defence, and without their effective offside trap he could have scored a hat-trick.

Nunez put the ball in the Liverpool net three times but two were ruled out by the assistant referee as Benfica drew 3-3, losing 6-4 on aggregate.

He showed his strength of personality in the final 10 minutes as he also pulled off a terrific save on Alisson and nearly brought his team back into a contest they had already come out of well.

Can Liverpool adapt to Nunez?

Two of Liverpool’s goals that night came from Roberto Firmino, who was excellent in the Anfield spotlight but has seen his previously key role in Liverpool’s attack diminish in recent years.

It was appreciated that the way the Brazil international played more of a ‘false nine’ role allowed Mane and Mohamed Salah to thrive, until the arrival of Diogo Jota in 2020 which marked a slight moving away from that as the former Wolves man increasingly took on a role closer to that of a traditional striker in Klopp’s system.

It oversimplifies Nunez to suggest that he is a number nine in the mold of an Erling Haaland. He goes deep and shoots wide in the same way small forwards do, like those already at Liverpool in fact.

However, at 6ft 2in tall, he could also provide a weapon that will make Liverpool full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson’s eyes shine, especially the former.

No other defender in Europe’s top five leagues has created anything like Alexander-Arnold’s 129 chances this season, with Robertson second in 90, ahead of Fiorentina’s Cristiano Biraghi (89).

He has also created the most ‘big chances’ this season (defined by Opta as a chance from which a goal would be expected) with 27, while only Hoffenheim’s David Raum (226) and RB Leipzig’s Angelino (211) provided more open play centers than his 191.

On paper, Nunez has everything to succeed in the Premier League. Pace, power, skill, shooting accuracy and beautiful hair.

Darwin’s evolution puns are already running out, for which we take partial responsibility, but it will be better for the player if he ignores all the comparisons.

Nunez can just be his own man.


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