The battle of the heavyweights in Manchester City and Liverpool has taken a huge step forward this year with the signings of two young stars of the game. When it comes to winning the Premier League at such small margins every point counts. Manchester City have been champions 4 out of the last 5 seasons with only Europe evading their grip. They have recruited Erling Haaland to enable them to keep their dominance domestically as well as get them over the line in Europe.
Liverpool have been forced prematurely perhaps into securing Darwin Núñez with the news that Sadio Mane wanted out of Anfield. They need to replace the Senegalese nationals goals as well as reduce the age factor of their front three. This is a significant signing for Liverpool as far as they rarely go for a player with such a hefty price tag. Virgil Van Dijk and Alison Becker joined Liverpool for a combined value of around £150million. But that was funded with the sale of Coutinho.
Make no mistake about it. This is a huge statement of intent from both of these teams. City win the Premier League but fail in Europe but they instantly move on from Harry Kane and arrive with Haaland. Liverpool miss out on the league by a solitary point and immediately secure one of the best young talents available.
Haalands’ Blistering Start
Haaland started out in Norwegian Club Molde FK who would be more known for providing good pedigree players to the Premier League over the years. But it wasn’t until his switch to RB Salzburg for a fee of £7million that he came to the fore. His physical stature was unusual to say the least when playing as a center forward. Haaland had an immediate impact in the 19-20 Champions League campaign scoring 8 goals in 6 games.
From this point forward Haaland has been in imperious form. The kind of form that makes the big boys take notice. Dortmund had seen enough and recruited the striker for £20million in the winter transfer window. His stats have been incredible since joining the German club racking up roughly a goal a game. He has also continued his form with Norway already scoring 20 goals from 21 appearances.
Núñez from Nowhere
Being totally honest not many people would have known who Darwin Núñez was this time last year. Similar to Haaland he made his start from humble beginnings at Penarol in Uruguay as a youth. After a few seasons made his first move to Spanish side Almeria for around £4million. It only took a single season for Benfica to break their club record of £20million and sign Núñez for five years.
The Champions League was the catalyst again where he could showcase his talents in front of Liverpool when both sides met in the quarter final. Núñez scored twice against the reds and although Benfica were on the losing side he impressed hugely. A strong powerful runner with explosive pace and power it was clear that this kid had something special.
Premier League – Superior League
Of course all this means is that both players have talent. But we’ve seen a few times in the past where players move to the Premier League from abroad and cannot deliver in the same manner as they did previously. Make no mistake about it the Portuguese and German leagues are both inferior than the Premier League.
The physical aspect will change for these players where they are strong players in their current environment. They will move now to a league that places a serious demand on your body and mind. Just ask Kai Havertz and Timo Werner how difficult it was to move from Germany to England. Same goes for Diogo Dalot and Adrien Silva who have struggled to make an impact.
This is to be possibly the most demanding of seasons ahead with the World Cup in Winter. Coupled with an already small window for players to rest from last season. Players will hit the 60 game mark far quicker than usual if they are on a successful run with their clubs. This will be a survival of the fittest and both strikers will want to come out of the blocks fast.
Haaland to make a difference
When you spend £60million on a striker you expect a return. In the case of Manchester City it will be interesting to see exactly what that return will be. Would you expect Haaland to land City more points per season? They already secure 90+ points season after season and have multiple scorers that break double figures.
From a total goals scored perspective it would be perhaps asking a lot to see an improvement. But maybe a better narrative would be against the bigger teams when City seem to come undone especially in Europe. Madrid would be the prime example for this when they “should have” buried the Spanish giants by 8 or 9 goals. But instead suffered an embarrassing defeat over two legs.
Haaland also gives City the opportunity to play a little more direct in their attacks instead of playing and winning by 1000 passes. They can afford to thread a ball in behind defences and allow Haaland to eat up the ground. With a strike rate of a goal per game we might not see teams get close to City like they have at times when games are on a knife-edge.
From a physical perspective and if you compare Haaland to the likes of Lukaku and Werner from Chelsea who have a combination of large and small frames. Haaland has the attributes to bully defenders with his physical frame. He also has the speed to terrorize defences with his direct running. He is a combination of power and finesse. Something you would not expect from his own build.
The Darwin Núñez Theory
Núñez should solve a huge problem in recent years for Liverpool. When i say huge, i take it with a pinch of salt of course as their strike force has been something to fear for a number of season now. But there is no doubt that the shoulders of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane have been burning over the past two season with the burden of goals. This is the evolution of Liverpool under Klopp that we’ve been waiting to see.
Roberto Firmino has not been the same player since Liverpool won the league in 19/20 season and it has taken Klopp some time to remedy this situation. Firmino is clearly more comfortable dropping deep and collecting the ball. Linking play and occasionally scoring. The issue of course is the word occasionally! His form in front of goal has fallen off a cliff in recent years and the responsibility on Salah and Mane has grown.
Last season we seen Mane move more centrally to cover this issue and the arrival of Diaz on the left flank left the Senegalese star fall down the pecking order at Liverpool for the first time since his arrival. Liverpool fell short last season after what was an incredible attempt to land a quadruple. This now shows the importance of a player like Darwin Núñez. In three finals Liverpool failed to score a goal in regulation time.
Núñez based on his previous history, although brief, should be able to bring a glut of goals from the middle of the front three. There is no doubt that Liverpool will create plenty of chances for the front man the only question is how prolific will be be in front of goal. His explosive pace and power make him the perfect foil for counter attacking football on the break. Judging from his Champions League campaign this year he will not be phased by physical defenders as he proved against Liverpool themselves.
The Making of World Class
This will be an interesting watch for both players. Haaland has been on this trajectory for a few years now since he was signed from RB Salzburg. It was inevitable when he linked with super agent Mina Raiola that this season would eventually come. The profile of Manchester City doesn’t come any bigger and he now has an opportunity to become a world great if he can help City win the Champions League.
Under Pep Guardiola he will be given the chance to shine in a team that is littered with talent. A team that is designed to create chances for him. A team that creates the most chances in the Premier League will surely turn Haaland into the leagues top scorer next season. We will then see if the German Leagues’ biggest talent will make it to the next level and be a true great of the game.
As for Núñez and Liverpool this is a different path than we expected them to take this season. One player leaving in Mane has triggered a change that was possibly not destined to occur for at least a year. We’ve seen some lower profile players arrive at Anfield over the years that were about to burst the bigtime like Suarez, Torrez and even Mo Salah but his price tag will bring expectation.
For Núñez to succeed he will not just need to be a goal-scorer. He will need to link with Salah and Diaz as well. Salah is the top dog at Liverpool and has a serious hunger not just for goals but for individual achievements. If both of these are to perform to their best it could result in a huge return in numbers for Liverpool. This adds an extra edge to the attack with all three front men possessing breakneck speed and skill.
He has some big shoes to fill going to Anfield. Even bigger now that he is replacing an already club Legend in Sadio Mane. If he can keep to form and trust in Klopp this could be the beginning of something special for Darwin Núñez. World class is on the horizon.
So which player will make the biggest impact? While I do think that both players will score alot of goals the biggest impact would be for City to win a champions league. It might be harsh to say that but they’ve won the league more often than not under Pep. So it boils down to Liverpool winning the league and City to finally break their duck in Europe.
For that reason I am going to go for City to finally get over the line and Haaland to make the difference. How many times have we seen City dominate domestically but think how much better they would be at the time with Harry Kane. That final piece of the jigsaw and someone to take over the mantel of Sergio Aguero.
It’s going to be a heavyweight battle at the top level again. Haaland will be ruthless when he gets into form. Although both will have successful seasons. The wait is finally over to see such a talent in the Premier League.