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Darwin Nunez is the unluckiest striker in Europe

Darwin Nunez screaming
Nunez missed a penalty in the 4-1 victory at Anfield on Wednesday night - REUTERS/CARL RECINE

You’ve heard of the false 9. How about Darwin Nunez, the false xG No 9?

Data suggests Nunez should have scored 1.61 goals in the 4-1 win against Chelsea. And the rest.

Eleven shots on target and the most passionate relationship with wood since Thomas Chippendale was in his prime underlined Nunez’s status as the unluckiest striker in Europe.

The Uruguayan has hit the goal frame 12 times this season, four on this one evening.

“It’s just crazy that he creates that many [chances]. Imagine for a second he would take them all. The numbers would be absolutely insane,” said Jürgen Klopp.

Nunez has hit the bar more than Oliver Reed on a weekend bender, and is so prolific with his expertise finding the post he would put the Royal Mail to shame.

We are talking a matter of inches from Nunez 2024 being compared to Erling Haaland 2023. In all but the most meaningful statistics, this was a complete modern centre forward’s performance. Darn that pesky inconvenience that his internal sat-nav does not register the postcode of the net.

The sight of Thiago Silva being run ragged by Nunez in the 96th minute summed up the Liverpool’s striker’s overall contribution. The Kop rose and chanted his name again, just as they had after every long distance effort, snapshot from close range and header ended in more frustration.

Then there was the penalty - the perfect summary of his so near, so far evening. When Alexis Mac Allister handed Nunez the ball in first half injury time, even his most vocal advocates imagined a recreation of the crossbar challenge.

Nunez duly wellied it against the right post.

The cynics will argue he lacks the finesse and poise to be elevated to the greatest goal-getters’ status. Others will point to the havoc he causes with his tireless scurrying to stretch the muscles of opposition defenders, and the crucial assist for Luis Diaz which confirmed him as Liverpool’s most creative attacker this season.

When it comes to finishing, Nunez is like a tennis player whose net cords keep agonisingly dropping on the wrong side,  a fast bowler who keeps clipping the off stump but never sees the bails drop, and the golfer who often hits the flag off the tee. He just needs to work on making his conversion rate as prolific as a missionary.

Klopp has bemoaned Nunez’s misfortune all season. There is a world in which the near misses cost Liverpool precious points. The reality is his performances have been instrumental in taking his side to the Premier League summit. Only once – Luton Town away in early November – has a Nunez miss stopped Liverpool claiming a win. He is tantalisingly close to turning mockery after each miss into wonderment at his ability to fashion so many opportunities.

It is damning with faint praise to say Nunez is nearly a world-class striker. Those millimetres between a ricochet over the line or out of play are still defining his broader reputation, even if opponents are playing in fear of him.

Nunez may find consolation from the early years at Anfield of his compatriot, Luis Suarez, who was afflicted by a similar curse in his second season in England.

In 2012-13, Liverpool hit the woodwork an astounding 33 times in 38 games under Brendan Rodgers, with Suarez master of the mahogany.

“There is an element of luck. It would be more worrying if the chances were not being created. Maybe next season, all the ones that hit the post and come out may go in,” Suarez reflected at the time.

The following season Suarez scored 33, becoming one of the most feared and prolific strikers of his generation as he polished his finishing.

Will Nunez ever reach such a lethal peak? Only by ending his intense relationship with the woodwork can he ensure his detractors crawl back under it.