Jürgen Klopp can engineer a’reunion’ of sorts with one of his most prominent former forward charges, with Darwin Nez at the heart of Liverpool’s future plans.
Robert Lewandowski is commonly regarded as one of the best strikers in world football, and that has been the case for the past decade. The Polish international is renowned for being clinical and deadly when presented with opportunities to score, having bagged an average of 32.2 league goals per season over the past five campaigns.
Few would question the finishing ability of the 34-year-old but in 2018/19 — when Liverpool won the Champions League — he experienced a curious run of form. Lewandowski posted a total of 140 shots in the Bundesliga in that season, and those efforts were worth roughly 27.5 expected goals but he actually scored just 19 times, excluding penalties.
Those numbers mean the current Barcelona striker underperformed Expected Goals (xG) by 8.5 goals at the time, which ranked him as the worst in the Bundesliga by some distance. For context, the next-worst finishers were Andrej Kramarić and Michael Gregoritsch, who both underperformed by 4.3 goals.
Across his career, Lewandowski has overperformed against expectation but in 2018/19, that wasn’t the case for one reason or another, and the lesson that his peculiar case provides is that finishing can be a fickle skill that can be difficult to repeat, regardless of who is involved.
Indeed, Jürgen Klopp once coached him while in charge of Borussia Dortmund. He brought him to Germany from Poland, and although he evolved to become a star, it took time for him to settle in his new environment.
Lewandowski delivered just eight goals in his debut campaign in the German top-flight but one year later, he found the net 22 times. He required time and patience, but it didn’t take too long for him to justify Borussia Dortmund’s decision to sign him from Lech Poznań in 2010.
Our newsletter subscribers get a rundown Monday to Friday from one of the best Liverpool FC writers — straight to your inbox, and completely for free.
Sign up to the Liverpool.com newsletter here — it only takes a few seconds!
On Thursday afternoon, the Reds boss compared Lewandowski to Darwin Núñez, stating (per The Athletic): “There are a lot of similarities. We had shooting sessions where he didn’t finish off one. It’s all about staying calm. When you see the potential, stay calm. It’s so difficult in the world we are living in.”
Núñez has been on Merseyside for little more than six months having been signed as a replacement for Sadio Mané in the summer just gone, but he’s already developed a reputation for being a poor finisher. The Uruguayan is already being labelled as the type of striker who needs several chances to convert.
It remains to be seen what Núñez will become in his prime but like Lewandowski throughout 2018/19, the South American could easily be experiencing a curious period in which the ball simply won’t find the back of the net. No player posted more shots in Liverpool’s bout with Leicester City on Friday night, and the same applies to the team’s clash with Aston Villa just a few days earlier.
Not the most orthodox of comebacks, but #LFC will take it!
Still, they can't rely on Faes every week, and Van Dijk summed up one of the issues.
Four things spotted: https://t.co/y6lMZbTDnu
— James Martin (@JamesMartin013) December 30, 2022
“He’s getting himself in those positions and when the goals do come I’m sure they will come like London buses,” said Trent Alexander-Arnold about his teammate after beating the Foxes.
He’s accumulated a total of 17 attempts for the Reds since returning from the World Cup, but hasn’t scored any of them. In fact, no player in the Premier League — not even Erling Haaland — is averaging more shots on a per-90 basis than Núñez this term, but when it comes to goals per 90, he places 13th in the division.
It feels like a matter of time before the gap between those two departments is bridged. The Reds number 27 is a magnet for chances and as a result, goals should naturally follow as long as Klopp is patient enough. If the Uruguayan international can get anywhere near Lewandowski’s level in the next few years, he’ll be more than worth the wait — engineering a ‘reunion’ of sorts that can fire the manager even further beyond the heights his Borussia Dortmund team ever managed to reach.