Darwin Nunez celebrates after scoring Liverpool’s third goal
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If nothing else, Darwin Nunez found a novel way to create a goal. On a night where goals arrived in copious quantities at Anfield, there were two extraordinary misses. And if the Toulouse left-back Gabriel Suazo had seemed to perform an unexpected impression of Nunez, failing to score when confronted by a goal that lacked a goalkeeper, there was a certain, perverse inevitability in the Uruguayan upstaging him.
It seemed another of the moments that are Nunez in a nutshell, his threat and his profligacy in the space of seconds. A lovely, deft touch to take him past a defender, the pace to burst past goalkeeper Guillaume Restes and then, with an open goal, the shot that hit the post. All was well that ended well, for Nunez and Liverpool: as he wreaked havoc, they struck anyway. Ryan Gravenberch latched on to the rebound, showed greater composure and beat Restes to score his side’s fourth goal of the night.
Exit Nunez, substituted with Anfield chorusing his name. He was already on the scoresheet, with a rasping, rising shot, struck with both ferocity and an unerring accuracy some of his other efforts lack. He had been denied, too, by Restes, after a lovely, dainty piece of footwork. Full of forceful running and defence-stretching pace, it amounted to a curiosity of a performance, and yet an entirely typical one. It was a year to the day since he had missed a sitter and scored in a Champions League game against Ajax. The competition and the opposition changed but, 365 days on, some things stayed the same.
But if Darwin was Darwin, the excellent and the erratic, the beneficiary of his wastefulness was the game’s outstanding performer. The Europa League can have fringe benefits for clubs such as Liverpool and, after Gravenberch’s arrival in the last couple of hours of the transfer window, it has offered him a chance to both integrate and impress.
The Dutchman’s first assist for Liverpool came in Austria against Linz, his first goal in the home win over Union Saint-Gilloise. His second came against Toulouse. As Jurgen Klopp’s side completed a hat-trick of victories, his fourth summer signing made it three fine displays in continental competition. If, at times, this felt a bit too easy for Liverpool, it enabled Gravenberch to illustrate his ability.
He is a rangy runner, his legs appearing telescopic as he seemed to extend them to keep the ball under control and confound opponents. One solo run, a meandering affair that took him past several defenders, culminated in a sharp turn and shot that Restes had to claw away. Another led, albeit indirectly, to Nunez’s goal. Factor in a willingness to get into the box and a habit of shooting from distance and the temptation was to suggest that Gravenberch may not be seen in the Europa League until spring. He could be starting in the Premier League instead.
As Klopp made eight changes, Liverpool displayed a strength in depth that should equip them to progress deep into this competition. Mohamed Salah’s determination to play is such that he got a late outing anyway, capped with a glorious goal, hammered in off the underside of the bar to have Klopp clapping.
But it is often a moot point if Diogo Jota ranks in the strongest side; at times he does and at others he does not. A fourth goal in six games was both a spectacular solo run and yet too easy. Jota ran through the heart of the Toulouse team, beating two defenders with a sharp turn, nutmegging a third and slotting a shot past Restes.
There is no doubt, though, that Wataru Endo belongs in the ranks of the understudies. The Japanese has made a solitary league start, at Newcastle almost two months ago; in the glee of victory, Klopp admitted Endo did not have, in his words, “a clue” what they were doing and if he may have been referring to the reshuffle after they were reduced to 10 men, the Japanese has been confined to the midweek team since then. He had the reward of a first Liverpool goal, steering a header past a motionless Restes when he met Trent Alexander-Arnold’s chipped cross.
Liverpool could, and perhaps should, have scored more goals but their clean sheets are rarities. They conceded one and their goalkeeper was fortunate it was not more. Toulouse had levelled when Thijs Dallinga, the top scorer in the Coupe de France last season, latched on to Aron Donnum’s pass, sprinted clear from the half-way line and drilled a shot past Caoimhin Kelleher.
The goalkeeper was culpable, though, in a game of entertainment, some fashioned by excellence, a bit by ineptitude. After Kelleher presented Toulouse with the ball and was in no position to save, Suazo seemed certain to score. The Chilean left-back instead drilled the ball straight at Alexander-Arnold, who had retreated to the line to make a brilliant block. But Suazo did not have Nunez’s fortune: there was no teammate following up to score. And Liverpool’s superiority meant it was hard to frame it as the decisive moment: more goals were always on their agenda.
Toulouse have scarcely been a case of nominative determinism, showing a greater propensity to draw thus far this season, and this was their first defeat of the campaign in Europe. But another loss in the rematch in two weeks’ time would mean Liverpool win the group with two games to go.
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