Football News

The internet reacts to Darwin Nunez and Liverpool’s Cafu-Roberto connection in win over Aston Villa

By Harry Edwards

Published: 19:40, 26 December 2022

Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold rolled back the years as they helped Liverpool beat Aston Villa in the Premier League’s return from the World Cup.

Liverpool went into the World Cup break on a run of two consecutive wins in the league, but they hadn’t managed to string together three in a row this season. They marked their return to competitive action with a defeat to Manchester City in the EFL Cup, but the Premier League proved to be a much happier hunting ground.

Travelling to Aston Villa, Liverpool were eighth by the time they kicked off, but within minutes they had lifted themselves up the table, closing the gap on fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.

In the moments before the goal, the focus was on Darwin Nunez and how he had run over a ball when strikers in confidence might have tried to connect, with Villa eventually playing it out for a corner. Robertson took the kick but the ball was cleared, eventually falling to Alexander-Arnold. As Villa looked to push up the pitch while also trying to get back into shape, Alexander-Arnold played a beautiful pass with the outside of his foot to Robertson, who crossed with his first touch for Mohamed Salah to tap in from close range.

It was a pass worthy of a pre-assist, given how it broke open the Villa defence, and will be remembered just as much as Robertson actually teeing up the goal. For Robertson, it was his 54th assist in the Premier League, moving him one clear of Leighton Baines as the defender with the most assists in the division’s history.

But perhaps more significant for Liverpool and their fans was the fact that the goal brought a much-sought after Robertson x Alexander-Arnold linkup. While Robertson has been flying this season, a lot of focus has been on Alexander-Arnold not hitting his usually high levels of creativity, or at least a lack of assists (still awaiting his first in the league this season).

This may not have counted for an Alexander-Arnold assist, but it served as a reminder of what he could do, for those who had forgotten. It was during the 2018/19 season that Alexander-Arnold and Robertson truly starting to thrive, combining to assist 23 times in the Premier League, with the Englishman just coming out on top at 12 vs the Scot’s 11.

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A year later they were even more crucial for Liverpool, with Alexander-Arnold assisting 13 and Robertson 12 to help the Reds end a long wait for the Premier League title, blowing the rest of the division away. At the time, the duo were being compared to Roberto Carlos and Cafu, and they resurfaced on Monday evening after Liverpool went 1-0 up.

Other Liverpool fans were reminiscing of the successful seasons in which Robertson and Alexander-Arnold ran riot, with a hint of hope that this will be the start of a revival, lifting the duo up among the best partnerships in history.

While fans were talking about Robertson and Alexander-Arnold, the main topic of conversation surrounding the match was on the performance of Nunez who trended on Twitter with 65,000 tweets during the match. The Uruguayan hasn’t had the best of starts to life as a Liverpool player and every game in which he fails to score, rival fans pile on the criticism. This was only boosted by his failure to find the net at the World Cup, and against Villa he didn’t have the best of games in front of goal.

Nunez had six shots against Robin Olsen, four of which were Big Chances, but failed to truly test Villa’s second-choice goalkeeper. Across the season as a whole, Nunez has missed 12 Big Chances in the Premier League, with no player missing more. No player has also missed more than his four in a single match, with the above tweet coming at half-time. However, while Nunez may not have scored, and he may have missed the Big Chances, his performance was promising as part of the wider Liverpool gameplan. Just before Christmas, this brought comparisons to Andy Cole, though the former Manchester United striker wasn’t happy with that.

“Cole, Nunez, not sure where this nonsense started but it’s Christmas, the festive season – I am happily retired,” he tweeted.

“Five Premier League titles, two FA cups, one League Cup, one Champions League, Golden Boot, Young Player of the Year, 187 Premier League goals, one penalty. Life is what you make it.”

Back to Nunez, the Uruguayan was even named Man of the Match by Andy Townsend, who was doing commentary on Amazon Prime’s coverage of the game. But, that didn’t stop the criticism and banter online.

Let’s end on a positive note, though.