The away fixture at Manchester City may provide an opportunity to Darwin Nunez to take the next step in his Liverpool evolution…
I HAD THE WEEK OFF from writing last Friday. Went to the Louvre.
Among what I find quite laborious sections of Egyptian ruins and amputated sculptures is the overarching, immensely detailed biblical paintings which lead to Mona Lisa.
They really are something – even to the most agnostic amongst us. They remind you that art can depict every belief. That extreme violence has always been a human sport which the masses enjoy. That terse imagery such as this does indeed paint a thousand words.
As an experience, it can be overwhelming. To lighten my conscience, I asked myself a question: what picture from Jurgen Klopp’s tenure would I indeed hang in the Louvre?
Sadio Mane at Goodison Park in 2016? The ballboy running away from the steward after full-time against Barcelona? The scene from The Strand at the 2018 parade?
All noble suggestions which were trumped by Mohamed Salah stood, arms wide in a haze of blue smoke in front of Liverpool’s away end. Disciples, notably Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, screaming in his face while he remains motionless in expression. An equaliser against Manchester City in a 2018 Champions League quarter final at The Etihad Stadium in a game and tie Liverpool would go on to win handsomely.
For Salah, it was a coming of age of sorts. As bedlam ensued around him as he carried the look of a statesman. This was his metamorphosis from Prince to King among Liverpool’s adoring support.
That game bears a lot of weight heading into tomorrow. It’s the last time Liverpool won on City soil. It was the ultimate acid test of a new Klopp side and the most notable Pep Guardiola head wobble of the lot.
The Spaniard was sent off at half-time. Venting at the referee but also knowing deep down Liverpool would get a chance. That he couldn’t contain the front three and needed a greater reward for his team’s early endeavour. That Salah would eventually show himself.
If Klopp and Liverpool are to register their first win on City soil in five years, they could well do with a similar story arc unfolding.
We don’t yet know if Liverpool’s attacking options frighten Guardiola now in the way they did then, but Darwin Nunez should.
The Uruguayan remains somewhat of a sleeper among those outside of Liverpool Football Club. Opposition supporters still oddly find him some sort of joke figure.
His style and rawness confuse pundits and observers. But in Liverpool circles there’s an increasing feeling the player is about to make a similar journey from potential to established superstar.
Yes, he could be more consistent and less erratic with chance conversion. But he is different to Liverpool’s original front three. He’s different to Haaland. He is a player who is mastering the art of getting in position and Gegenpressing. The rest, I’m confident, will come.
One thing Nunez now needs is a show of faith in a fixture like City away. He’s started at Arsenal, stolen the show at Newcastle, but being trusted with No.9 duties in what is the hardest fixture in club football represents a huge shift.
The rest remains a body of possibility. But then that is the player epitomised. He could score a defining brace or be the personification of Liverpool’s wastefulness.
One thing is certain, if he starts Guardiola will be apprehensive and may have to rethink things. These games often come down to the finest margins and utmost class.
It’s a fixture which has laid ground for one of the greatest in our history to perch himself on the throne of great Liverpool forwards.
There’s a way in which Liverpool 2.0 takes another evolutionary leap tomorrow. It involves Nunez, pyro and pandemonium in the away end.
Hang it in the Louvre.