Jurgen Klopp‘s decision to take off Darwin Nunez after 57 minutes against Real Madrid left many Liverpool supporters scratching their heads given the side’s urgent need for goals.
Nunez was joined by Diogo Jota in being replaced shortly before the hour mark by Roberto Firmino and Harvey Elliott, in a move that many fans took as a sign that the manager was conceding the tie.
Klopp spoke afterwards in his press conference about the substitution, hinting at Nunez’s defensive workrate as a reason for the switch.
“Darwin looked like he was not on the absolute top level as well and then we need to defend that side as well because conceding a goal is not helpful in that situation,” said Klopp.
“Yeah, we can change there, that’s why we did it. We wanted to mix it a little bit, that’s true.”
The reasoning does little to dispel the theory that Klopp had all but given up on progression by the time the move was made to bring Nunez off, particularly given the nature of Liverpool’s situation and the need for three goals.
Not only could it be argued that defensive work was a low priority at that point, the reality is that very little of Real Madrid’s good attacking work was coming from side regardless.
Right-back Dani Carvajal offered very little going forward and instead spent the majority of the first 45 minutes inside his own half trying to offset the threat of Nunez and his peers.
Nunez was removed from the action at a similar stage four days earlier in the defeat at Bournemouth, with Mohamed Salah completing the 90 minutes on both occasions despite struggling to making his presence felt in either game.
The Madrid defeat saw the Egyptian fail to register a single shot in a game for the first time since October 2020.
Nunez, meanwhile, had more shots (three) than any other Liverpool player, despite being subbed early.
The decision to take off Nunez ahead of Salah has been a common theme at points this season, and the comments about Nunez’s defensive capabilities are perhaps an indication of an ongoing lack of trust in that department.
Klopp’s post-match comments arguably throw up more questions than they provide answers. The very fact that a £64 million forward was withdrawn from proceedings at such an early stage with the team chasing three goals certainly throws open a debate about what the plan was for the remaining half hour.
It also begs the question of why the potential club record signing, a centre-forward, is now playing on the left wing. Surely that wasn’t the plan when he was signed?
Nunez has been arguably Liverpool’s most lively and exciting forward all season, with the side looking far more likely to threaten when he is on the field.
Questions might now be asked about his role given that Liverpool required a miracle and the threat down Nunez’s side was virtually non-existent.
The 23-year-old was by no means at his best at the Bernabeu but he remained one of the Reds’ bigger threats going forward and the argument for a defensive-minded switch doesn’t add up on this occasion.
Another in the long list of baffling decisions that have plagued this season.