The signing of Jurgen Klopp from Portugal in 2022 scored in the Community Shield. He struck again in Fulham last week. Darwin Nunez made an explosive impact. So, seven months earlier, Luis Diaz. But if two transformative appearances suggested Klopp’s gold rush of attacking signings continued with the £64m striker, there’s a difference between the two South Americans. It’s in the scoring bets.
If Nunez followed a tradition of potent players who were quick to make their mark, with Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota scoring early goals that set the tone for their Anfield careers, further comparisons came with the January purchase. Diaz arrived from Porto, Nunez from Benfica and both showed the pace and directness that made them feel immediately at home in a Klopp squad.
But while the Uruguayan is averaging a goal every 35 minutes for Liverpool, Diaz’s record is one less flattering every 4.67 games. He has six goals in 28 games. It might seem an unfair reflection of his efforts given his ability to torment centre-backs, a string of catalytic contributions to last season’s run, the fact that three of those goals were crucial goals against Manchester United, Villarreal and Tottenham, and the case he did. was the man of the match in the Carabao and FA Cup finals.
He can feel the player who gets everything but the goal. At Craven Cottage, he had a shot disallowed and hit the post, but Liverpool’s top scorers were Salah and Nunez. “You see the chances he’s taking, it’s just bad luck,” Klopp said. “He’s had those moments blocked a few times, but he’s in really good shape. It’s more important that he is in these situations and it’s not that I tell him after the game that he should have scored here or there. We don’t tell 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 had 74 shots in his Liverpool career, with 24 on target; his odds conversion rate is 8.1%, while Salah’s was 16.8 last season and 20.2 the previous campaign. If it reflects in part the quality of chance, Klopp might value the ability to reach scoring positions above all other attributes.
He has a proven ability to make attackers more prolific. Salah’s best season elsewhere yielded 19 goals and his best at Anfield produced 44. Mané, with 26, and Jota, with 21, both achieved career records in campaigns under Klopp. “When Sadio played against us, he scored three times for Southampton, but it wasn’t like he scored every week,” the German recalled. “He didn’t even start the game when he played against us. So consistency came with confidence and with teammates and the structure of our game. So that’s what we’re working on.”
Mané, Salah and Jota provide pertinent precedents. Neither is an orthodox striker and neither has been signed as a pure scorer, but each has scored at rates many forwards could envy. Diaz scored 16 times in half a season for Porto before Liverpool plummeted, but that equaled his previous record in an entire campaign. Klopp was unequivocal when asked if Diaz can score 10 or 15 goals this season. “Definitely,” he replied. “We need to see it, but of course he has that potential.”
One complication, after he went straight last season, is customizing his game to suit Liverpool’s, although a team that has thrived on narrow wingers may see benefits in keeping him closer to the touchline. “He’s gotten better at understanding these kinds of things that we’re doing, but that also leads to weird situations because we want to be flexible on the wings,” Klopp explained. “But that means he has to be a little bit more on the inside, but then you realize that, for him, he’s pretty good if he stays out longer, so we get used to that.”
Klopp can complain about the knee-jerk reactions that prevail in the short-term culture of football. However, Diaz benefited when first impressions last season were universally positive. Now, his wait for a first goal this season remains short. “The problem is that we sit here and talk about two games or whatever when he hasn’t scored, but in the long run it’s not a problem,” his manager said. “It’s just about being prepared and fighting for those moments like this.” But if Diaz’s fighting spirit quickly made him look like the quintessential Klopp player, and if it’s unfair to expect him to outrun Salah or Nunez, the mission is now to show the finishing touch of a Jota or a Mane.