Liverpool’s misfiring forward line shows why summer tweaks is likely aim

For all that Darwin Nunez is the sole focus of scrutiny this week, it would be fair to say that Liverpool’s forward line as a whole has the potential to become one of the more interesting stories of their summer.

At the start of the campaign, the Reds’ attacking options were considered their biggest strength, but then a late-season spike in wastefulness essentially ended any title hopes.

And, though fatigue played an underrated part in those struggles, the questions raised over Jurgen Klopp‘s frontline are not entirely without basis.

With 36 games played, Liverpool remain top of the Premier League table for non-penalty xG generated this term (74.2), while Man City come in second (66.9) and Arsenal third (64.1).

However, the Reds sit third best for actual goals scored, backing up the surface-level sense of profligacy that is, rather interestingly, also reflected in the deeper underlying numbers.


Lacking lethal weapons

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, March 14, 2024: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 2nd Leg match between Liverpool FC and AC Sparta Praha at Anfield. Liverpool won 6-1, 11-2 on aggregate. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Just take the fact that both City (+11.1) and Arsenal (+8.9) are the top two teams in terms of overperforming their non-penalty xG this season, while Liverpool’s underperformance of -4.2 has them ranked 16th in the top-flight.

The Gunners have also scored a ludicrous, league-leading (and surely unrepeatable) 16.1 goals more than their post-shot xG suggests, while Pep Guardiola’s men are eighth-best on 3.3.

Liverpool, meanwhile, managed to overperform their PSxG by just 0.9, making them the 14th best in the division in that regard.

Of course, it is only fair to point out the huge degree of variance generally involved in finishing, but it is noteworthy that the Reds’ numbers match up to the feeling that they haven’t been particularly deadly in front of goal this season.

And that is perhaps exactly what should be expected from a forward line that has always given the impression it is comprised of two ‘killers’ in Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota, and then a less-than-ruthless supporting cast in Nunez, Luis Diaz and Cody Gakpo.

Jota is, in fact, the only Liverpool attacker to overperform his non-penalty xG this season (by 4.7 goals), while Diaz (-3.4) and Nunez (-4.4) have been the two worst finishers to feature among the top three clubs’ five most used attackers.

By contrast, Arsenal and City have had two and three of their most-used forwards respectively overperform their npxG, while their worst performers, Gabriel Jesus (-2.3) and Julian Alvarez (-2.5), are in much more respectable territory.

Admittedly, it is tough to unpick whether this is a consequence of Klopp’s high-volume, occasionally low-quality chance creation machine, and thus if it is a problem Arne Slot will be able to solve.

But the obvious alternative is to make tweaks in forward areas, which is understood to be a likely aim for the coming summer.


Where is the priority?

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 16, 2023: Liverpool's Darwin Núñez (L) and Luis Díaz before the FA Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In terms of outgoings, it is difficult to see talk of Nunez leaving coming to anything given the likely lack of feasible suitors, and the fact remains that a reversion to even slightly below-average finishing would do remarkable things to his already reasonable goal return.

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s current expectation is that Salah will stay put for another year, even if an agreement over a new deal cannot be reached.

That arguably leaves Diaz as the most likely departure given his contract situation and well-documented interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona, though the Reds won’t be pushing the Colombian out of the door.

LEEDS, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 12, 2023: Leeds United's Crysencio Summerville during the FA Premier League match between Leeds United FC and Manchester United FC at Elland Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Still, the obvious priority, if Liverpool are to add in this area, would be a young, flexible forward capable of finishing with some consistency, which brings sense to recent links with PSV’s Johan Bakayoko and Leeds United’s Crysencio Summerville.

But whether either of those two players are settled on, or it is an as-yet-unknown target who arrives, the club’s recruitment staff surely know they must uncover a Salah, Jota or Sadio Mane this time around, rather than the less-prolific additions of the last two years.

Fortunately, it will likely only take one smart signing to tip the balance in favour of goalscorers, ensuring Slot has the right tools to banish the inefficiency that has defined the latter part of this season.