Luis Diaz has been at Liverpool for little more than a year but the composition of their front line has changed hugely during his relatively short time in England. The former Porto man made his debut alongside Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino, then formed an excellent trio with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah once they returned from the Cup of Nations in Africa.
With Diaz’s lengthy rehabilitation from injury almost complete, he could soon find himself playing in the front three with Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez. The only teammate he has more than 913 minutes with is Salah, and they play on opposite flanks in any case, so it will be fascinating to see how he combines in these mostly untested partnerships.
The Data Scouting website carries expected goal data for teams and looks at how they perform when pairs of players are on the field (whether they link up directly or not). Diaz has been in three of Liverpool’s best duos this season, so his return can’t come soon enough.
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As well as when he has been on the pitch with Salah, the Reds also have a strong underlying performance when Diaz has played with Trent Alexander-Arnold or Fabinho. The 9-0 pummelling of Bournemouth inevitably makes a difference here; it represents almost 15 per cent of the Colombian’s Premier League playing time this term and Liverpool recorded the biggest expected goal difference seen in the top flight in 2022/23 (per FiveThirtyEight).
Nunez missed that match, the second of his three game suspension for his red card against Crystal Palace. That issue combined with Diaz’s injury means the South American pair have barely played together yet. Their shared playing time amounts to just 370 minutes across nine matches, with just three of the joint appearances lasting longer than half a game.
However, their final match together demonstrated of what they might be capable. Liverpool equalised against the current league leaders thanks to Diaz assisting Nunez for the first time. The pair had combined for chances against Fulham and Everton prior to that, with the three efforts they produced having an average expected goal value of 0.23 (per Understat), over twice as valuable as an average shot. They might have exchanged just eight passes in their 207 league minutes together but the three in opposition boxes all led to decent opportunities.
Diaz and Nunez also have very similar record for the most important metrics. They both possess a combined goals and assists rate of 0.73 per 90 minutes in the league this season, which puts them a shade ahead of Salah (on 0.70) and just 0.01 outside the top 10 players in the division.
If this doesn’t quite make them interchangeable, their ability to contribute in different positions can only help. Arguably the most interesting aspect of Nunez’s goal at Arsenal was that Diaz was playing on the left of the attack officially yet provided the goal-creating cross from the right of the penalty box.
It seems Jurgen Klopp wants this level of flexibility from his forwards. The Reds’ front three was Mane, Firmino and Salah from left to right for the best part of five years – and deservedly so at their peak – but now there are several players who can prosper centrally and on the left. While Salah remains assured of his regular berth, any combination of the forwards who will be here next season looks on the table in the other two spots.
By not featuring against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, Diaz equals Arthur Melo for most Liverpool games missed this season through injury with 28. But he will be back soon and the number 23 may be ready to unleash havoc with Nunez.
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