Football tribalism can make hypocrites out of most of us, even at the best of times. Your “stone cold penalty” is an opposition fan’s “dive.” Your wild gesticulations, demanding a red card, if not imprisonment for violent assault, might be met by a wildly confused “for what?” by an opposition fan. So it goes.
Preseason football is no exception.
A loss, like the one Liverpool experienced in their first preseason outing against Manchester United resulted in United fans dusting off their green and yellow scarves, exclaiming “we’re back, baby!” while also editing a Darwin Nunez fail compilation video. Liverpool fans responded with a collective shrug of the shoulders and sigh, while mumbling something about youth players, United starting preseason sooner, and any other excuse that comes to mind.
Of course, the truth is that results in preseason don’t matter. In the preseason leading up to the 2019/20 campaign, Liverpool failed to win in four consecutive friendlies (losing to Dortmund, Sevilla, and Napoli, and drawing with Sporting Lisbon). Then the season started and Liverpool won 26 of the first 27 league games.
While preseason results don’t matter, performances do. And Darwin Nunez put in one of the most memorable preseason performances of recent memory. Four goals, including three non-penalties in a scant 45 minutes. And aside from the goals, he looked like a threat for the entire time he was on the pitch. It wasn’t just the goals he scored, but the positions he was consistently taking up. His finishes, even with the shots where he didn’t score, were usually well placed and assured.
In addition to the man of the hour, there were two very exciting performances from Harvey Elliott and Fábio Carvalho as well as a composed and mature first half performance from the expected starters, and it was an all-around impressive showing from start to finish.
In short, as far as preseason performances go, there was a lot to be thrilled about.
As Liverpool fans, we can simultaneously write off the Man United result and get excited about a 4-goal thriller from Darwin Nunez. These things are not mutually exclusive.
Even in the United game there was a lot to be excited about. The ease in which players like Carvalho and Luiz Diaz consistently got into threatening positions was very promising. At one point it looked like the Liverpool youths would run riot over United’s first team. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Defensive errors, almost all by players very far down the pecking order, produced a seemingly lopsided result, even if the individual performances were solid or occasionally good.
The most exciting thing about Nunez’s performance was that there is still room for improvement. As the laughably premature “fail” compilation videos show, the young Uruguayan striker will only benefit from more time on the training pitch with his teammates. The raw talent is clearly there, but with a bit of patience and coaching, he could be absolutely deadly for Liverpool. Defenses in England and across Europe better watch out.
Although the result doesn’t matter, there was clearly the tangible benefit of getting off the mark for Nunez. The team made sure he got the penalty (good luck taking that ball off Mohamed Salah in the regular season!), and everyone was relieved when he slotted. That goal (and the three others that followed) will surely give him confidence going forward, even if his first goal in a competitive match doesn’t come straight away.
In this way, the performance mattered, and it’s something we can—and should—be excited about.