Remember a few years back, during our title season, when Mo Salah refused to square to Sadio Mane against Burnley?
Mane was raging and kicked off on the touchline. Then, in the tunnel while walking into the dressing room, Roberto Firmino smirked at the camera as our two brilliant wingers blanked each other. It made a great viral clip, but actually, it never mattered that Salah and Mane weren’t very close… That season we romped the title. Their rivalry actually spurred each other on, even if there were some awkward moments between the pair. It may well have resulted in Mane’s eventual exit, which was sad and unexpectedly unemotional, but his subsequent failure at Bayern Munich proved it was a smart Liverpool sale.
Throughout their entire time together, Mane assisted Salah 13 times. Salah assisted Mane 17 times, slightly more often, but not an enormous amount considering the goals both scored and the fact they were basically ever-present for five seasons together.
Darwin Nunez, in one season and a bit, has assisted Salah nine times already. In fact, every one of Nunez’s assists has been to his partner in crime. Salah has made two goals for Nunez, but it would likely be plenty more if Darwin didn’t have such a habit of missing sitters!
But I’d much rather focus on the positives. Opta state that Salah and Nunez have made more chances for each other (19) than any other duo in the Premier League this season.
They clearly have a good relationship off the pitch and there seems to be no issue between the pair in terms of who’s scoring more. Salah and Mane were in a silent battle to be considered the main man, whereas there is obvious hierarchy now with Salah above all the other attackers in Liverpool’s roster in terms of age, status, productivity and ability. This suits Mo. He likes playing with Nunez and the Uruguayan’s immense physicality benefits Salah’s creative attributes.
The Egyptian, who has lost some of his pace, likes now to cut in from his right-wing and play intricate through-balls or lofted passes behind the defence. Nunez can run onto these thanks to his incredible speed and the pair seem to have a an increasingly telepathic relationship, where Nunez begins his run early and Salah knows where he’s heading. Salah used to be a cold-blooded goalscorer first, second and third, but while he’s still an insanely good finisher, he seems more happy to make chances for team-mates than simply get himself into the box. His evolution will see him remain world-class for many years to come.
Nunez is not world-class yet. He simply lacks the composure in front of goal to be regarded as one of the best, but his overall contribution is so, so much better than last season.
His pressing has gone through the roof and his work-rate is arguably the best of any of our attackers. Jurgen Klopp made sure to voice this after our 3-0 win against Brentford, in which Nunez had two goals disallowed.
“Outstanding! Outstanding,’ he said. ‘Everyone can see; look at him how he kept the ball for us, who would have thought he could do that for us last year?” Klopp told the Metro.
“[The] standout was Darwin because Brentford wanted long balls so he started the pressing. [His] work-rate was insane.
“In all the moments we could keep the ball on the ground and we could play football, with Darwin [Nunez] connecting the game for us exceptionally, we were super dangerous,” Klopp added.
Nunez now holds the ball up better, is consistently making great runs and is always involved in our offensive moments. If he had the calmness in front of goal Diogo Jota is currently showing, we’d be talking about one of the best strikers on the planet, but his improvement is enormous and his catalogue of shocking misses demonstrates an ability to be in the right place at the right time, as well a mental-block to score these chances.
Can he change this? Well, he’s learned to hold the ball up from a situation last term where it was bouncing off him, which is surely a trickier task than putting the ball into an open net from six yards out – so I’m holding out hope!
Salah clearly loves playing with Nunez. He provides energy, strength, speed and excitement. He gets his team and the fans going. The relationship between the pair is blossoming and will continue to do so now Nunez has staked his claim as a Premier League starter above Cody Gakpo in the central attacking role.
Gakpo is a lovely player in the buildup and a great option to have, but right now, he’ll have to wait his turn.
Nunez should start against Manchester City after the international break. The fact they’ll play a high-line and dominate possession will actually suit him on the transition. No doubt Salah will provide moments of class to feed his friend, too. It would be a mighty handy time for the 24-year-old to find his finishing boots!
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