One moment against Brentford demonstrates that Jürgen Klopp and Pep Lijnders have yet to reach Darwin Nez, but they are correct to keep their long-term faith
Darwin Nez had a golden opportunity to put Liverpool up 2-0 against Brentford on Saturday evening.
Trent Alexander-Arnold received the ball in space just past the center circle, looked up, and spotted Nez, who had set off almost as soon as the Englishman had taken possession.
The pass was predictable, but Nez’s finish was disastrous. He attempted to volley it with his first touch, as he had done with a similar Alexander-Arnold ball against Wolves in the FA Cup, but he mishit it and lifted it over the top.
Following that, the Uruguayan striker was visibly enraged. He threw his arms up in the air, almost as if a teammate hadn’t squared it up for an open goal. However, this was a reflective outburst.
According to The Athletic, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp and his assistant Pep Lijnders have’repeatedly urged’ Nez ‘not to be so hard on himself’ and reassured him that they are pleased with his progress. The summer signing from Benfica was initially regarded as a “long-term project.”
Nez, on the other hand, appears to have ignored their advice. He was extremely critical of himself after passing up the opportunity to play against Brentford.
It may appear to be a reductively simple analysis, but you can’t help but feel that it’s primarily a mental game for Nez.
After scoring only his second double for the club in an all-time classic 7-0 victory over Manchester United in early March, the 23-year-old’s confidence seemed to have peaked. He’d just scored four goals in five games, including one against top-four rival Newcastle and another in the Champions League against Real Madrid.
But in his ten appearances since, he’s only scored once, coming off the bench to add a sixth late in a rout of Leeds United last month.
Part of the problem is that he’s started six of those matches on the bench, and dropping down the pecking order appears to have harmed his confidence once more.
Rather than rising to the occasion presented by the arrival of Cody Gakpo and the return from injury of Luis Daz and Diogo Jota, he appears to be struggling to bear the burden. In that sense, the errant volley against Brentford was a missed opportunity in more ways than one.
You are cautious about making too many excuses. Liverpool has a right to expect a more assured player for the fee it paid — $107 million (£85 million/€96 million) including add-ons.
But, more importantly, Klopp and Lijnders always believed it would take time for him to reach his full potential. Not only because of the tactical adjustment period, but also because he must develop the mentality of an elite goalscorer.
Regardless, both will be expecting an explosive improvement from Nez next season. After all, he is third in the Premier League in terms of non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes (0.65) and first in the league in terms of shots per 90 (4.46).
His excellent movement and developing connection with his teammates means he’s getting plenty of high-quality chances; now he just needs to finish them more consistently. Yes, technique is important, but it feels more like a matter of poise.
Klopp, Lijnders, and the rest of the team fully expect him to complete the puzzle, transforming those enticing underlying numbers into bountiful rewards.