Liverpool are charging towards the 2022/23 season with a new-look front line.
With the club’s legendary front three broken up by Sadio Mane’s move to Bayern Munich, Jurgen Klopp is having to redesign his attacking approach around £85-million signing Darwin Nunez.
No doubt the Reds manager will take his time to integrate Nunez just as he has done with players like Andrew Robertson and Fabinho in the past, but you only have to look at the seismic transfer fee that Liverpool shelled out for his services to see how much the club believes in him.
Nunez under pressure
Marry that to the fact that rival supporters have been quick to criticise every little move of his in training and the pre-season defeat to Manchester United, and the pressure on Nunez’s shoulders quickly becomes apparent.
Only time will tell whether the Uruguay international will sink or swim, but Kopites can always turn to the past to see how their previous signings at centre forward have worked out, from the good, the bad and the ugly.
For every Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez that has come along and made themselves heroes on Merseyside there is a signing like Andy Carroll or Christian Benteke that simply can’t make the grade in the famous red jersey.
The strikers who came before…
So, as we all wait with bated breath to find out which of those categories Nunez will slot into, we decided to take a closer look at Liverpool’s spending in the number nine position since the turn of the century.
To do so, we’ve taken every single player, who features mostly as a striker, with more than 10 appearances for Liverpool’s first-team since 2000 and ranked them from worst to best.
Calling upon our trusty medium of Tiermaker, the 29 forwards who fit that criteria have been ordered into categories from ‘disastrous’ to ‘legendary’ based on the opinion of your humble GIVEMESPORT writer.
That does mean, naturally, that this will be a subjective exercise and one that is open to debate, because rest assured that my opinion isn’t necessarily the right one.
Nevertheless, it will be one that’s based upon statistics as well as the eye test within the context of each striker’s time at Liverpool with only their output at Anfield from the 2000/01 season onwards taken into consideration.
Ranking Liverpool strikers
Got it? Right then, without further ado, let’s see what Nunez has got to compete with by checking out how every major Liverpool striker in the 21st century compares to one another down below:
Mario Balotelli, Andy Carroll, Rickie Lambert, El Hadji Diouf, Fabio Borini and Christian Benteke
Let’s not beat around the bush: Liverpool have made some serious missteps in the transfer market when it comes to buying strikers and each one of these forwards letf a bad taste in the mouth at Anfield for a variety of different reasons.
The trio of Balotelli, Borini and Lambert became the Premier League‘s favourite punchline as the Brendan Rodgers era fell apart upon Suarez’s exit, scoring just eight goals between them from 82 combined appearances in the pitiful 2014/15 campaign.
Meanwhile, Diouf’s disastrous spell at Anfield transcends his awful goalscoring record as he quickly became derided by his own teammates. His feud with Steven Gerrard still continues to this day.
Carroll has come to be the textbook example of a panic buy with his £35-million arrival on the back of a six-month purple patch at Newcastle United blowing up in Liverpool’s face, reaping just six Premier League goals from their club-record investment.
And the acquisition of Benteke was cut from the same cloth as the Reds’ use of £32.5 million was made largely redundant in just two months with Klopp, who moved the player on the following summer, not picturing him in his vision for the club.
Not good enough
Dominic Solanke, Iago Aspas, Florent Sinama Pongolle, Neil Mellor, David N’Gog and Andriy Voronin
A tier not a million miles away from the ‘disastrous’ rung, but one where the circumstances are a little more sympathetic with the player either never having been good enough for the club in the first place or whose arrival was far less high-risk and high-profile to start with.
You can only blame Solanke so much for his woeful record of one goal from 27 games at such a young age and it’s a similar story with N’Gog who never really looked as though he possessed the quality to consistently lead the line for Liverpool.
Mellor will always have a special place in Kopites’ hearts for his crucial goal against Olympiacos and stunning winner versus Arsenal, but ultimately, just six goals from 22 games shows he wasn’t quite up to scratch.
Pongolle simply never lived up to the hype as he never scored more than four goals in a season for the Reds, while Voronin may well have taken a ‘disastrous’ spot had he not been a free transfer who would ultimately just become Torres’ deputy anyway.
Maybe we’ve been too generous on Aspas, but at the end of the day – despite scoring just once and leaving after a season – his move didn’t hold the club back from netting over 100 league goals and mounting a title challenge. The lesser said about that corner, the better though…
Middle of the road
Fernando Morientes, Danny Ings, Robbie Keane, Nicolas Anelka, Milan Baros and Djibril Cissé
Shrug your shoulders and wonder what might have been because although you can’t really accuse these strikers of being full-blown flops, they didn’t exactly set the world alight at Anfield either.
Morientes was past his best by the time he signed for Liverpool, never breaking double figures in a season for the club, while we’ll happily admit to cutting the ever-loved Ings some slack on the basis that injuries killed his early promise in red.
Keane can probably count himself lucky to have wrestled his way away from the dreaded bottom tiers, but his six-month fling at Anfield felt more like a case of ‘wrong place, wrong time,’ than some sort of unmitigated catastrophe.
Elsewhere, Cisse is one of the stronger contenders in this tier for boasting an underrated goal-per-game ratio of 0.3 as well as having scored in the shootout at Istanbul, the 2006 FA Cup final and having the added sympathy of suffering a horrendous leg break at the club.
Baros rotated between ‘flop’ and ‘star’ status at Liverpool with no purple patch ever lasting too long, while Anelka and his five goals have punched about as high as possible for someone who only swung by on a six-month loan.
Peter Crouch, Divock Origi, Robbie Fowler, Dirk Kuyt and Emile Heskey
Were they world-class phenomena channelling their inner Ronaldo Nazario? No, no they were not, but did they answer their specific brief at Anfield by perfecting certain traits that made them pretty darn useful? You bet.
It might have taken 19 games for Crouch to score his first goal at Liverpool but once he was away, he was away, waving goodbye to the club with a handy 42 strikes of which 11 came in the Champions League.
Kuyt will forever be adored on the Kop for his gut-busting work ethic as well as that hat-trick against United, while Heskey proved to be a real handful for defenders in the famous red jersey with an underrated record of 60 strikes from 223 outings.
Then, before you crucify us for only putting ‘God’ himself in merely ‘fans’ favourite’, kindly remember that only performances this century are being considered here with Fowler’s post-1999/00 record of 33 goals in 104 games reading far, far more tamely than his 1990s heroics.
And Origi? No idea mate. Can’t remember any of his goals. Must have been in small, insignificant games with absolutely no bearing on Liverpool history. Hmm, moving on…
Daniel Sturridge and Diogo Jota
Admittedly something of a halfway house between strikers who essentially nailed a particular skill or job to perfection and the bona fide greats of recent Liverpool forwards, these two make for an interesting pairing.
Placing Sturridge, to be frank, was a nightmare, but we ultimately had to even out the onset of injuries and long plateau towards his exit with the fact that he was – well, to use the tier’s name – simply lethal during his prime. The streets will never forget his 2013/14 season.
And Jota doesn’t really get the credit that he deserves for arriving at Liverpool mid-pandemic on the eve of a tough season, constantly moving across the front three, but still amassing a superb record of 34 goals in 85 appearances so far.
Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, Michael Owen and Roberto Firmino
A tier that speaks for itself. While Torres might ultimately have gone off the boil post-knee surgery and broke more than a few hearts by moving to Chelsea, he’s still universally loved by Liverpool fans for all his legendary moments in red.
As for Suarez, the European Golden Shoe winner deserves a place at the top for his 2013/14 campaign alone, which is arguably the Premier League’s greatest ever individual season courtesy of an insane 31 goals and 12 assists from just 33 outings.
Meanwhile, Firmino might not have the lethal goalscoring streaks of Torres and Suarez, but is just as deserving of his spot for having reinvented what it meant to be a Liverpool striker: perfecting his own, unique style to the tune of Premier League and Champions League trophies.
Finally, although Owen and the word ‘legendary’ might sound incongruous in a Liverpool context since his United move, where else could we possibly put a player who literally won the Ballon d’Or while leading the line for the club?!
Warnings and hope for Nunez
Talk about a mixed bag.
Let’s be honest here, Liverpool have dropped some absolute clangers in the transfer market since the turn over the century with Balotelli, Borini, Lambert, Carroll and more all turning to be misguided acquisitions in the centre forward position.
And while there’s good reason to think that Nunez couldn’t possibly flop so badly on Klopp’s watch, there’s no denying that he’ll still want to be competing for the highest tiers and not just finishing in the middle of the pack.
The blueprint for success has been laid out during the Klopp era by the likes of Jota, Firmino and even Origi, so everyone will just need to come together, take their time and work things out to ensure that it makes for an effective collaboration.
“Manchester United sign Lisandro Martinez!” (Football Terrace)
We hope to revisit this very concept in the coming years and no doubt Nunez, if his ability and potential is anything to go by, will be ranking higly amongst those who have come before him.