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Liverpool have just learned their biggest weapon at Brighton as Jurgen Klopp can expect a huge boost



Liverpool have just learned their biggest weapon at Brighton as Jurgen Klopp can expect a huge boost.

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Perhaps the only valid excuse for Liverpool’s dismal performance at Brighton was the extent of the Reds’ injuries. Alongside defensive leader Virgil van Dijk, Jurgen Klopp was missing four of his top six attacking options.

Roberto Firmino is not ‘close to team training’ after suffering a setback in his recovery from an initially minor injury (via LFC), while Diogo Jota and Luis Díaz are set to be sidelined until February and March respectively.

And the latest addition to the injured list was Darwin Núñez, who ran into a small problem on the training ground.

Núñez could return for the FA Cup third round replay against Wolves on Tuesday and is otherwise expected to return to visit Chelsea next weekend. This will be a much needed comeback. Against Brighton, Klopp’s side delivered their worst attacking performance of the season so far. Although they created many chances to score (they finished with an expected goal tally of 1.05), they managed just six shots. Previously their season-low was number seven tried in last month’s Carabao Cup defeat to Manchester City.

Nuñez seems increasingly important to the functioning of the Liverpool attack. The team’s average xG for 90 minutes with the Uruguayan on the pitch is 1.94, and only one player (who has played at least 450 minutes, or the equivalent of five full games) can break that record. Even then, it’s only a marginal deficit, with James Milner the surprising presence only 0.02 ahead.

The 23-year-old has now been sidelined for five Premier League games since joining the club – two through injury (Brighton and Nottingham Forest) and three from the red card he received on his debut against Crystal Palace ( Manchester United). Bournemouth and Newcastle).

We put the 9-0 win over Bournemouth out of the question as it looks like an anomaly in more ways than one that could skew the data.

In the remaining four games, Liverpool’s average xG drops to just 1.39, a number which in context would put Klopp’s side tied for 10th in the division with Fulham.

Still, with an average of 1.94, he would be second, ahead of Premier League leaders Arsenal (1.9) and just behind Manchester City (2.02). As it stands, they sit a very respectable third behind these two teams in underlying numbers, at 1.78. And it’s clear that Núñez is a big part of the reason.

It’s a similar story when you look at the great opportunities that have been created. Liverpool are averaging 3.46 a game under Núñez, but only two in his absence (again, Bournemouth is left out).

So why should Liverpool be missing the ex-Benfica man? Well, specifically against Brighton, ECHO’s Paul Gorst remarked that the team’s ‘only idea’ was ‘to stand up to Mohamed Salah against two defenders and expect him to conjure up something’ .

While that game plan was of course inherently flawed, a direct approach with Núñez on the pitch would certainly have been more fruitful.

And in general, because of its movement, it is an exceptional outlet. Indeed, he leads the big five European leagues in shots per 90 this season with a 5.68.

By comparison, Salah and Cody Gakpo managed just two shots at Amex Stadium. It’s hard to say whether Núñez would have had the usual chances against Roberto De Zerbi’s side given Liverpool’s poor performance across the board, but he would likely have upped his game.

So, in a weird way, Brighton underlined how good he is. Despite playing in what is clearly a deeply dysfunctional team, he was able to generate the best number of chances in the world. Upon his return, and especially when the offers start pouring in, Klopp expects a massive boost.