Haaland and Nunez have the potential to reshape City, Liverpool and the Premier League title race


This weekend’s Community Shield sees the new English domestic season begin as the last one ended, with Manchester City and Liverpool battling it out.

City propelled Liverpool to the Premier League title but the Reds got the better of Pep Guardiola’s men in their FA Cup semi-final, beating Chelsea in the final and booking their place in Saturday’s curtain-raiser.

These two are expected to lead the way again in 2022-23, but a lot has changed in their ranks since their last action, especially in attack.

At the Etihad Stadium, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling left to be replaced by Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez.

With Haaland’s arrival perhaps the most notable in the Premier League in this close season, Liverpool have responded with their own big man up front; Darwin Nunez was signed from Benfica to be flanked by the return of Mohamed Salah, but Sadio Mane left.

After several successful years at the forefront of English football, Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp look set to reshape their squads around their latest purchases.

Both managers lined up last season mostly without a traditional number nine.

Jesus may return to that role after joining Arsenal, but City’s only centre-forward has often played from the right in 2021-22, taking just 16.0% of his Premier League touches from inside the box.

Haaland, on the other hand, took 20.7% of his Bundesliga touches inside the Borussia Dortmund box last season, which explains how 96.3% of his shots were taken from inside the box – a share far superior to that of any attacker. who played for City or Liverpool.

That mark also tops Nunez’s (74.1% of shots from the box), but the 23-year-old also brings something new to a Reds side that have often fielded a false nine down the middle.

Roberto Firmino has long been that man and took just 9.5% of his touches in the area last season. Nunez took a whopping 24.5% of his touches in the Primeira Liga from within 18 yards of goal.

Staying in such positions so consistently has helped boost the shot conversion rates of Haaland (27.5%) and Nunez (30.6%), although both have always impressively surpassed their expected goal tallies (xG); Haaland scored 22 from an xG of 18.5, while Nunez scored 26 from an xG of 18.4.

In fact, the numbers suggest Divock Origi was the only player from the Premier League’s top two teams to have played in a manner similar to what one would now expect from the superstar duo.

Origi, who left Liverpool for Milan, took 21.7 per cent of his touches in the box, and his on-sight policy saw a goal attempt every 6.9 touches (9.3 for Haaland, 9, 8 for Nunez).

Still, it was perhaps as much about Origi’s role as a specialist Liverpool rescue act as anything else; he made just seven appearances, all from the bench for a combined 126 minutes, but scored three goals, converting 30.0% of his shots.

During his time under Klopp, when he was occasionally asked to play wide, Origi’s stats were more in line with those of his former teammates. Only 13.3% of his touches arrived in the box, only 68.9% of his shots came from the same distance, and those attempts arrived every 16.4 touches on average.

Perhaps Klopp will also ask Nunez to push wide and stretch the game, maintaining the fluid forward line that has seen winger Mane increasingly used in the middle in big games.

That shouldn’t necessarily hamper Nunez’s hopes of scoring regularly; Salah could afford to slightly underperform his xG (23.8) and still hit 23 times in the league last season, playing from the right but taking 19.6% of his touches in the box and only needing 12.4 on average to attempt a shot.

Before last season, Guardiola had at least been able to bring into City the kind of penalty striker he signed from Haaland.

Sergio Aguero has averaged one shot per 10.0 touches under Pep, with 17.8% of his touches over five seasons inside the box.

And Haaland also brings more to his game, if only because of his height. The 1.94m former Dortmund man has won 57.6% of his aerial duels in 2021-22 – no City or Liverpool striker has won more than half of them, with Nunez also trailing 40.6%.

But perhaps the former Guardiola player whose profile most closely resembles Haaland’s is Zlatan Ibrahimovic – and his Barcelona career hasn’t been Pep’s greatest achievement.

Just as City will have to adapt to Haaland – perhaps allowing him to compete aerially from a few of their trademark cut crosses – so will they. The striker only completed 71.3% of his passes in the league last season; that level of lax bonding is unlikely to wash over Guardiola’s side, as Jesus (84.8%), Sterling (85.4%) and Riyad Mahrez (90.0%) will attest.

Nunez has completed 67.1% of his passes in the league, which would also rank him dead last among Liverpool forwards, but he should at least be familiar with the pressing approach imposed by Klopp.

Liverpool led the Premier League in high turnovers (443 or 11.7 per game), average starting position (45.5m up) and opposition assists per defensive action (9.9 PPDA) , while Benfica (high 9.0 turnovers per game, 44.4m starting position and 8.7 PPDA) unsurprisingly ranked in the top three of the Primeira Liga in each category.

So there’s plenty to be excited about in both Manchester and Liverpool and yet plenty of room for potential start-up issues.

The title fight ahead may well be decided by how well Haaland and Nunez fit into these ruthless and relentless winning machines, and Saturday provides a first opportunity to assess that process.

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