When Mohamed Salah’s late shot against Manchester United spun back off the left-hand post of Tom Heaton’s goal and fell to Darwin Nunez, the latter probably thought he was going to mark his first pre-season appearance for Liverpool with a goal. But it was not to be.
Credit must go to Eric Bailly, who slid into the path between the ball and the goal. This forced Nunez to lift his shot but he went too far in that regard and his effort went over the crossbar.
Thankfully it was only a friendly. It will soon be forgotten, and it wouldn’t have mattered much had the Uruguayan rifled the ball into the net anyway. History suggests Nunez will swiftly get accustomed to receiving chances such as these now that he plays for Liverpool.
He also got a couple of rebound goals in his final campaign with the Reds. Mane opened the scoring in the 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace when a Salah shot was saved, and he profited in similar fashion when a Divock Origi effort was kept out in the home win against Leeds United.
Once you start looking for them, you realise the Reds frequently find the net by reacting more quickly than their opponents in the penalty area. Opening or go-ahead goals were scored in wins against Porto, AC Milan, Newcastle United, Leicester City and Burnley following rebounds last season, with the scorers including Fabinho, Diogo Jota, Origi and Salah.
The second of Firmino’s three goals at Watford came that way and Joel Matip scored a quick-fire equaliser at Aston Villa in May to keep Liverpool’s title challenge afloat. It’s often noted that Jurgen Klopp believes a counter-pressing situation can trump any playmaker, but perhaps exploiting rebounds isn’t too far behind.
While doing so obviously can’t be as deliberate nor as planned as pressuring an opponent with the ball, players can be alert to possibilities. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is quoted in The Athletic’s piece, saying: “I think you can train it, you just have to make yourself aware of where the best players find themselves.”
The Liverpool midfielder also cited a goal Salah scored against Villa in 2021 to highlight the Egyptian’s expertise. “I think Andy Robertson had a shot and just as he’s hit it, it’s clear the keeper’s going to save it,” he said. “Mo’s following it in with the defender, but you can see Mo takes a step to his right.”
Definitions of rebounds can vary. While The Athletic only looked at “follow-up shots in the few seconds after a shot bounces off the goalkeeper or the woodwork,” Understat must include other situations. Their rebound data has Salah as Liverpool’s top man of recent times, not Mane.
But according to their statistics the Reds have not been as productive with them as they should have been. Over the last five seasons, Manchester City have scored 42 goals from 41 expected from rebounds, where Liverpool’s totals are 31 scored from 38 xG.
Nonetheless, it’s clear chances of this type are guaranteed to fall to Nunez’ in 2022/23. After his miss in his first pre-season run out, the Uruguayan is sure to convert one soon enough.