Nunez and Erling Haaland arrived as a pair to English football last summer, and the comparisons started as early as the Community Shield. While there is no shame in living in the shadow of a player with 50 Premier League goals in 48 games, the comparison is not a kind one for Nunez who remains unpolished.
The key moments of the first half at the Etihad demonstrated as much, with Haaland’s crisp touch and finish breaking the game open shortly after Nunez’s control had let him down in the opposite penalty area.
There are shades of a young Edison Cavani with Nunez. They are strikers who rely on volume, with their dashing movement presenting them with numerous high-quality chances, which they finish at a rate that is average at best. They will rack up the goals across a season, but their profligacy can come under a microscope in tight games.
In the Premier League this season, Haaland has been on the end of two ‘big chances’ per 90 minutes according to Opta’s definition. Nunez’s 1.8 big chances per 90 minutes is almost identical. However, just 21.4 per cent of Nunez’s big chances have found the net, compared to 44 per cent of Haaland’s.
Conversion rates are volatile, and players who put themselves in goalscoring positions are usually rewarded over time. Nevertheless, had Trent Alexander-Arnold not scored a fine equaliser, regression to the mean would have offered little consolation for Liverpool fans.
There were no glaring misses against City from Nunez (he finished the game with just 0.42 expected goals), but there were occasions that he shot when he should have passed, and passed when he should have shot. He would have been bearing down on Ederson in the 17th minute, but his first touch deserted him.
The sight of Haaland and Nunez was a striking point of difference from when City and Liverpool were fighting for the title two years ago. In the 2-2 draw at the Etihad in April 2022, Diogo Jota and Raheem Sterling were the starting centre-forwards. On Saturday, the teams had more traditional strikers up front.
City vs Liverpool is one of the few fixtures in the calendar which offers Haaland and Nunez space to run in behind opposition defences. In truth, neither side found it easy to find their striker, with Haaland and Nunez enjoying just eight and seven touches in the penalty area respectively.
Nunez’s touch map from the game showed he favoured the right side of the pitch, rather than drifting left which he usually prefers. This could have been a tactic to stay away from Kyle Walker on the right side of City’s defence, while moving right also put Nunez within closer range of Alexander-Arnold’s right foot.
Klopp decided against using Cody Gakpo as his team’s striker, a player more alike to Roberto Firmino who used to be Liverpool’s pressing reference point. This might be a decision for Klopp to stew on, because City played through Liverpool’s front three with ease from deep in their own penalty area.
City goalkeeper Ederson played nine passes into Rodri, eight of them reaching the midfielder beyond the edge of the 18-yard box. Ederson completed more passes to Rodri than any City team-mate.
If you are pressing City, Rodri is the one player you want to prevent receiving the ball. This suggests Liverpool’s forwards, notably Nunez, did not do a good enough job blocking passing lanes to Rodri or showing City wide. Burnley away is the only City league game this season where Ederson completed more passes to Rodri.
While the focus will be on Haaland scoring and Nunez drawing a blank, this out of possession problem will not have escaped Klopp’s attention.