Haaland and Núñez tipped as rivals, but so far it has been no contest

Haaland and Núñez tipped as rivals, but so far it has been no contest
Erling Haaland of Manchester City is challenged by Mohammed Salisu of Southampton during a Premier League match at Etihad Stadium in Manchester on 8 October 2022. (Photo: Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

Champions Manchester City travel to Anfield to face a struggling Liverpool in a massive Premier League match on Sunday.

Both Manchester City and Liverpool spent big to revamp their striker department in the close season, with Erling Haaland and Darwin Núñez tipped to be rivals atop the goal-scoring charts, but so far it has been no contest.

City’s capture of Haaland and Liverpool’s addition of Núñez represented a style shift for both, focusing their forward lines around a central striker, as last season’s title rivals tried something different.

Núñez was much coveted after his impressive rise at Benfica in Portugal, persuading Liverpool to part with €75-million to bring in the Uruguayan. The results have been moderate so far, but the same cannot be said for City’s new phenomenon.

The doubters suggested Haaland’s incredible goal-scoring feats at Borussia Dortmund in Germany could not be as easily replicated, but the Norwegian has made light work of silencing such talk ahead of City’s trip to Liverpool on Sunday.

Haaland has played in nine Premier League games to date, but nevertheless already holds the record for most goals (15) and most goal involvements (goals and assists combined, 18) in a player’s first 10 appearances in the competition’s history.

The most goals a player has scored over any 10-game stretch in the competition is 16 by Luis Suárez for Liverpool between October and December 2013.

“It’s unbelievable, honestly,” City forward Jack Grealish told BT Sport when asked about Haaland after last week’s win over FC Copenhagen in the Champions League.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Haaland breaks new ground for Man City as blistering start continues

“I’ve never witnessed anything like it in my life. For the first and second goals I was just laughing. He is always there. The keeper said something to me as I was walking back. He said: ‘He’s not human!’ I said: ‘You’re telling me?’”

Núñez’s initiation to life in England has been tumultuous, given he was sent off on his home debut in August for an apparent headbutt, and was forced to miss three games through suspension.

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Three goals from five starts in all competitions is a more than respectable return, especially for a new player at a new club, settling into a new country. It is just that Haaland, and his City team, continue to raise the bar to unprecedented levels.

Two of Núñez’s goals have come in his past two games, against Arsenal and Rangers, suggesting that he is starting to reach something like a Haaland-type output.

Darwin Núñez celebrates after scoring Liverpool’s first goal against Arsenal at Emirates Stadium in London on 9 October 2022. (Photo: Shaun Botterill / Getty Images)

“You could see with Darwin that it meant the world to him,” Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp said after Núñez’s goal at Rangers in their rampant 7-1 win.

“The relief is big. All the effort is paying off. Let’s hope he can go on from here.”

Sunday’s clash would be the perfect time to show that, on his day, Núñez can score goals against the very best around. The problem is, Haaland, rested in midweek, will be out to do the same, with any defence, so far, powerless to stop him. Reuters/DM

Champions City are second in the table with 23 points, a point behind Arsenal, while Liverpool are 10th with 10 points.

Key stats

  • City have won four league titles since Pep Guardiola took over in 2016, while Liverpool have won only one despite losing fewer games in that period;
  • Guardiola’s City (2.36) and Klopp’s Liverpool (2.19) are the only two Premier League teams to average at least two points per game since the start of the 2016-17 season. The next-best club is Chelsea (1.94);
  • City have scored 80 more goals and conceded 24 fewer than Liverpool since Guardiola took charge at the club;
  • The average age of Liverpool’s starting line-up is more than 28 years old – the oldest since Klopp took charge. The average age was just more than 25 in the 2015-16 season;
  • Liverpool have 12 points fewer in eight games than they took in comparable fixtures last season, while City have three points more in nine games;
  • Liverpool have conceded the first goal in six of their eight matches this season, winning only one and drawing three of those. Last season they won four and drew two after conceding the first goal in the last six matches they went behind;
  • Guardiola’s City have taken only five points out of a possible 18 at Anfield but have not lost there since Liverpool won the league in 2019-20 (W1 D1); and
  • Liverpool have lost four times to Guardiola’s City in the Premier League – more than against any other team.

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