Liverpool and Man City have the same problem as Darwin Núñez and Erling Haaland herald new era

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Liverpool’s front line is set to have a very Portuguese feel next season. If a forward is not from the country, then chances are Portuguese is their first language or they were purchased from a Primeira Liga club.

Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Luis Díaz respectively tick the boxes for those criteria and Darwin Núñez is on the brink of joining the Colombian in the latter category at Anfield too. Mohamed Salah might suddenly be something of an outlier in unusual fashion.

While nobody can be sure about how well Núñez will perform in England, having only had one excellent season in a top-level European league, Díaz has shown the transition from Portugal to the Premier League can be accomplished with minimum fuss. Nonetheless, it’s natural for Kopites to cast glances at Manchester City and Erling Haaland and wonder if their title rivals have placed the safer of the two bets with their transfer business this summer.

READ MORE: Benfica have given Liverpool two ways to complete Darwin Núñez transfer as £ 17m FSG sale close

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After all, the Norwegian hitman had three successful campaigns with Borussia Dortmund, scoring 86 times in 89 games following his move from RB Salzburg. He’s been delivering goals for longer than Núñez and in a higher-quality league. The odds of Haaland scoring more than the Uruguayans in 2022/23 have to be in his favor.

However, the players are more similar than their career histories to this point might suggest, or at least they are based on their statistics from this season. A radar chart overlaying the two players’ numbers immediately has one thinking of the Spider-Man meme.

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Each man holds a slight advantage in several categories but average them out and there would be very little to separate them. The similarities do not end there, nor with the fact that both players have scored Champions League goals at Anfield.

Neither Liverpool nor City have really played with a conventional striker for quite some time. The Reds have tended to deploy a false nine in the center of their front three, with Firmino the master of linking the midfield and the attack. Obviously Pep Guardiola (and his predecessors) had tremendous success with Sergio Agüero, but it has now been three seasons since the Argentine was a regular player, last featuring for even half of the available minutes in 2018/19.

After yet another incredibly closely fought title battle, both teams are spending big money on players who will likely force them to change their style of play. At the very least, Haaland and Núñez may need to alter their own approach to align with that of their new colleagues.

A stat which caught the eye of ESPN writer Ryan O’Hanlon suggests the Benfica forward may have work to do if he becomes a Liverpool player. O’Hanlon noted that: “Núñez completed 67 per cent of his passes in the Portuguese league this season and attempted 19 per game. No one on Liverpool was below 74 per cent or 29 passes. ”

When someone suggested his figures would naturally improve with the Reds, it was pointed out that the passing numbers of Liverpool’s other major attacking acquisitions in the last six years remained “pretty stable” between their old clubs and Klopp’s side.

This is not to say that the Reds have gone full circle to the first season of the German’s era, in which Christian Benteke was their costliest signing and stuck out like a sore thumb, far from it. But Núñez has not been as involved in build-up play as Liverpool’s current forwards have, and he is more of an out-and-out striker than anyone they’ve used regularly for quite some time.

The same will be true of Haaland at Man City. The similarities between the players run deep, and which of the two sides is able to successfully integrate their new front man most quickly could prove decisive in the 2022/23 title race. One thing’s for sure: the rivalry has entered a new era.

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