Jurgen Klopp’s 2022 signing from Portugal scored in the Community Shield. He struck again at Fulham last week. Darwin Nunez has made an explosive impact. So, seven months earlier, did Luis Diaz. But if two transformative cameos have suggested that Klopp’s golden run of attacking signings has continued with the £64m striker, there is a difference between the two South Americans. It lies in the scoring stakes.
If Nunez has followed in a tradition of potent players who were quick to make their mark, with Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota scoring early goals that set the tone for their Anfield careers, other comparisons came with the January buy. Diaz arrived from Porto, Nunez from Benfica and both showed the pace and directness that made them look immediately at home in a Klopp side.
But whereas the Uruguayan is averaging a goal every 35 minutes for Liverpool, Diaz’s record stands at a less flattering one every 4.67 appearances. He has six goals in 28 games. It can feel an unfair reflection of his efforts, given a capacity to torment defenders, a series of catalytic contributions in the run-in last season, the fact that three of those strikes were crucial goals against Manchester United, Villarreal and Tottenham, and the case that he was the man of the match in both the Carabao and FA Cup finals.
He can feel the player who gets everything but the goal. At Craven Cottage, he had a strike disallowed and hit the woodwork but Liverpool’s scorers were Salah and Nunez. “You see the chances he’s having, it’s just unlucky,” said Klopp. “He’s had these blocked moments a couple of times, but he’s in really good shape. It’s more important that he is in these situations and it is not that I tell him after the game that he should have scored here or there. We don’t say to him: ‘The other two scored and you didn’t, come here, we’ll show you.’ It’s unnecessary. It’s not a problem.”
Liverpool are working on his finishing – “but not Luis specifically,” Klopp clarified – in a bid to make him potent. He has had 74 shots in his Liverpool career, with 24 on target; his chance conversion rate is 8.1 per cent whereas Salah’s was 16.8 last season and 20.2 the previous campaign. If it reflects in part the quality of chance, Klopp can value an ability to get into scoring positions above all other attributes.
He has a proven capacity to make forwards more prolific. Salah’s best season elsewhere yielded 19 goals and his finest at Anfield produced 44. Mane, with 26, and Jota, with 21, both posted career highs in campaigns under Klopp. “When Sadio played against us, he scored three times for Southampton but it was not that he scored every week,” the German recalled. “He didn’t even start the game when he played against us. So the consistency came with the confidence and with the teammates and the structure of our game. So that is what we’re working on.”
Mane, Salah and Jota provide pertinent precedents. None is an orthodox centre-forward and none was signed as a pure goalscorer but each struck at rates many a striker could only envy. Diaz found the net 16 times in half a season for Porto before Liverpool swooped, but that equalled his previous best in an entire campaign. Klopp was unequivocal when asked if Diaz can get 10 or 15 goals this season. “Definitely,” he replied. “We need to see, but of course, he has that potential.”
A complication, after he slotted straight in last season, is customising his game to suit Liverpool’s, though a side who have prospered with narrow wingers can see benefits from keeping him nearer the touchline. “He has improved when understanding these kind of things that we are doing but then that leads to strange situations as well because we want to be flexible on the wings,” Klopp explained. “But that means he has to be slightly more inside but then you realise, for him, he’s quite good if he stays out wide for longer, so we get used to that.”
Klopp can rail at the knee-jerk reactions that prevail amid football’s culture of short-termism. Diaz nevertheless benefited when first impressions last season were universally positive. Now his wait for a first goal of this season remains short. “The problem is we sit here and talk about two games or whatever when he didn’t score, but in the long term it’s not a problem at all,” his manager said. “It’s just about being prepared and fighting through these moments like that.” But if Diaz’s fighting spirit swiftly made him look a quintessential Klopp player, and if it is unfair to expect him to outscore Salah or Nunez, the quest now is to show the finishing touch of a Jota or a Mane.