Football News: Nunez and Gakpo
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I’ve personally found it hard this season seeing unrealistic expectations on young players like Darwin Nunez, but I do completely understand it. At the start of the season it was very clear the first choice front 3 was Luis Diaz, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah with (as we all expected) Diaz ultimately replacing Sadio Mane, who had filled in centrally for Firmino in the back end of last season due to injury.
So it was frustrating that Diaz and Diogo Jota got injured early on forcing Nunez into spotlight on the left wing. Then to rub salt in the wounds Firmino got injured too, pushing Nunez central and square pegs in the round left wing hole. This meant Nunez was expected to basically replace Mane, Diaz, Jota and Firmino who contributed close to 60 goals last season in all competitions.
As a result every missed chance or bad performance from a 22/23 year old who can’t even speak English fluently yet, was cross sectioned and hyper analysed. His price tag didn’t help but deep down we all knew we were paying for potential because Klopp said as much in his interviews.
Fast forward to January and Cody Gakpo comes in. He is another 23 year old who also needed time but then bang, Nunez is injured too. So Gakpo has to go straight into the team for every game with no settled position and now it’s on his shoulders to replace Firmino, Jota, Diaz, Mane and also Nunez!
To make things worse he’s come into the team at a time when we’re probably playing the worst football all season. The team needed 2 own goals to beat Leicester, dodgy VAR calls to draw against Wolves, and of course got absolutely battered by Brentford and Brighton. There was no confidence or fluidity from anyone and a guy who’s just landed and had no pre-season or any experience at this level was the next young man to under the microscope. Again it was not fair, but again I understand the fans frustration because we were all hoping for a good season and its always the hope that kills you!
Despite the early struggles of these two forwards, I’m still choosing optimism. What I like about Nunez and Gakpo is they are direct and they aren’t afraid to shoot from tight angles or outside the box. They’re very raw and definitely trying to go for too much power, but I like that they both seem prepared to work hard and they’re not scared to keep shooting even when the crowd are moaning and groaning. Composure will come with confidence and comfort in their surroundings.
For me our best front 3 when all players are fit is still Diaz, Firmino and Salah. Jota would probably even be the first substitute to warm up were he fit. I do very strongly believe though that in 12-18 months Gakpo and Nunez will be settled in and hopefully they can kick on. With a new look midfield next season (we hope) the team should be playing better. That will settle the crowd down and allow Nunez and Gakpo to play without this immense weight of expectation and tension around the stadium that you can literally feel through the TV (so I dread to think what it’s like on the pitch).
It feels to me like Nunez and Gakpo are being judged as though they are 26 year olds who’ve been here for 3 years. Yes, they cost a lot but that’s just the market now. I also think Erling Haaland being a freak of nature hasn’t helped as people will just point to him, but there’s a reason he’s on more money a week than Nunez and Gakpo probably get between them in 2 weeks.
I’ll give you an alternate example and hopefully enough of you reading are old enough to remember the dark days of 2011. Luis Suarez signed in January for big money at the time. Roughly £24m put him in our top 3 most expensive signings ever with Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll.
Suarez was also a 23 year old from the Dutch League and he was an out and out striker. Yet he still scored just 4 goals in the remainder of the season after signing in January. Gakpo can still very realistically match that. In his first full season Suarez only scored 17 in all conpetitions. Nunez will likely obliterate that as he’s already on 10.
The difference is that the bar was so low when Suarez came that he had less pressure and he got a much more positive reaction from the fans; despite also losing possession a lot and missing some absolute sitters. Suarez went on to be arguably the most devastatingly effective player to pull on a Liverpool shirt in the Premier League era but he needed 18 months to get there.
All I would ask is that fans give Nunez and Gakpo that same time and temper their expectations slightly because they really aren’t that much worse than Suarez was when he first signed. They might never reach the levels he ultimately did. How many do? However, let’s give them the best chance to do so by getting behind them.
If you disagree on their chances of suceeding here still, that is absolutely fine. I won’t call it abuse because it’s usually not. In 90% of cases, it’s just frustration boiling over and I feel it just as much. It’s also perfectly acceptable for people to express how they feel as that’s why we all love to talk about football. All I’m hoping for is that the best fans in the world will just consider the circumstances these two very young and inexperienced forwards are having to try and mitigate ahead of schedule. That’s why I’m pleading for patience.
Written by Adam Jones January 22 2023 14:57:26