Nottingham Forest fans were incensed after Darwin Núñez's dramatic late winner for Liverpool at the City Ground. The Uruguayan striker stepped off the bench after his recent injury absence to head in Alexis Mac Allister's cross after a chaotic final few minutes.
Forest had threatened to score themselves and had a corner, which was cleared out to Callum Hudson-Odoi out wide. But referee Paul Tierney blew up and stopped play due to a head injury to Ibrahima Konaté after he collided with goalkeeper Caoimhín Kelleher.
Instead of giving possession back to the home side, Tierney dropped an uncontested ball to Liverpool goalkeeper Kelleher, much to the dismay of the Forest coaching staff and support.
Liverpool then scored two minutes later through Núñez to spark jubilant scenes in the away end as Jürgen Klopp's side went four points clear at the top of the Premier League.
Video footage emerged on social media via The Anfield Wrap, showing a fan's reaction from the home end after the late goal. One supporter can be heard shouting: "That is a disgrace", before adding: "That is disgusting! That's beyond a disgrace... look at that. That is a disgrace. That is an absolute robbery and nothing less. That is absolutely disgusting."
Alan Shearer analyzed the goal on Match of the Day and declared it "totally wrong" before former referee Dermot Gallagher suggested Tierney did not apply the correct laws of the game.
“Kelleher hits Konate and then if you run it on, watch the referee," he told Premier League Productions. "If you stop the pictures now, this is when the referee is whistling. He whistled when Hudson-Odoi had the ball.
"Now, the law states, if he [Tierney] had stopped it when Konate got hit by Kelleher, the ball would have to be dropped in the penalty area and it would be dropped to Kelleher. Not a problem.
"But the ball has been cleared from the box, Paul Tierney hadn’t whistled and he should give the ball back to Hudson-Odoi, who would then have the ball uncontested. He didn’t do it, for whatever reason, Paul Tierney didn’t do that.
“All it is is an incorrect restart in law. The fact that Liverpool scored is a bit of a red herring myself because it was 1 minute 50 seconds [later], which is an entirety on the pitch. The ball comes forward, it goes back, goes forward and even goes out for a throw-in. It’s just an incorrect restart in law, for me, it doesn’t directly attribute to a goal.”
Liverpool.com says: It would appear that Forest do have a right to be aggrieved about the ball being returned to Kelleher. The defeat could ultimately cost Forest dear in its quest to stay in the Premier League this season. But there was two minutes between that incident and Núñez scoring and the home side had opportunities to clear its lines. The result will still sting though.
* An AI tool was used to add an extra layer to the editing process for this story. You can read the original story in the Liverpool ECHO by clicking here.
Liverpool has taken another step towards marking Jürgen Klopp's final season in charge at Anfield in style after confirming its lead at the top of the Premier League table will remain until next weekend at least. The Reds secured their first trophy of the 2023/24 campaign with a win over Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final last Sunday — but will now be eyeing more silverware across all competitions.
Darwin Núñez was the hero on this occasion against Nottingham Forest on Saturday, as the Uruguayan returned from a three-game absence through injury to score in the 99th minute of play. Nuno Espirito Santo's side had chances to punish Liverpool, but the likes of former Red Divock Origi and Anthony Elanga could not make them pay throughout the game.
It's a win that brings Liverpool one step closer to another trophy, however, the next few weeks will play a major role in the chances of securing another Premier League title before Klopp departs. The Reds are preparing to face Manchester City and Manchester United in the coming fixtures, with the latter game in the FA Cup at Old Trafford.
While the current focus is on this campaign and making it as successful as possible, the hierarchy at the club will also have one eye on the successor they will appoint after Klopp's nine-year reign in charge comes to an end. Here is the Liverpool.com verdict on the latest gossip to emerge around the Reds today, including more on Xabi Alonso.Xabi Alonso (Bayer Leverkusen)
The former Liverpool midfielder has largely been regarded as the favorite to take over from Klopp at Anfield, after guiding Bayer Leverkusen to first place in the Bundesliga table — 10 points clear of Bayern Munich. And the Reds could have just received a huge boost in the efforts to secure him.
According to Sky Germany, Leverkusen will allow Alonso to take a new role if they get enough money for him after agreeing to a 'verbal promise' with the manager. There is no written clause for his exit, with his contract set to expire in 2026.Liverpool home shirt 2023/2024 Get the Liverpool home kit
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However, Liverpool could have to pay a fee of up to $27m (£21m/€25m) if they do wish to appoint Alonso to the role. Bayern Munich is also interested in the Spaniard after announcing Thomas Tuchel would leave the club.
Liverpool.com says: Alonso appears to be the first choice for Liverpool but the club will need to move quickly to acquire him with Bayern — as well as other clubs who could part ways with managers such as Chelsea — also linked with the former midfielder. He appears to be the top candidate but there will be a delay in him announcing his next move until Leverkusen's league campaign is over.Rúben Amorim (Sporting CP)
Sporting Club de Portugal boss Rúben Amorim has emerged as a top target for Liverpool in the search for Jürgen Klopp's replacement. According to The Mirror, Liverpool had club representatives in Portugal last week to watch the 2-1 defeat to Benfica, as the Reds consider appointing Amorim to the role.
The report goes on to claim that further research will be conducted on the former midfielder, with the club expected to interview him for the job once the current campaign is over. Despite this, Bayer Leverkusen boss Xabi Alonso is still considered the frontrunner for the job.
Liverpool is also searching for a new sporting director at the club after Jörg Schmadtke announced he would be leaving the club, just a year after arriving. Any managerial appointment will likely have to arrive after this decision is made, as the new chief looks to oversee any decisions made.
Liverpool.com says: As mentioned, there are steps the club needs to take before a new manager can be appointed to succeed Klopp. The Reds need to act quickly, or it could be a scramble come the start of the 2024/25 season.
Welcome to The Briefing, where every Monday during the season, The Athletic discusses three of the biggest questions to arise from the weekend’s football.
This week, Jude Bellingham was sent off for his frantic protests against a disallowed goal, Nottingham Forest’s owner embarked on some complaints of his own after Liverpool’s late winner at the City ground, and Chelsea drew rather limply again.
Here, we will ask if Manchester United have the wrong models for their rebuild, whether Son Heung-min has cracked the xG code at Tottenham Hotspur, and whether we should be happy for players who emerge from the ‘bantersphere’…Are Manchester United looking at the wrong models for their rebuild?
United scored an early goal and then tried to defend deeply and perhaps nab another on the counter, which led to an awful lot of City passing the ball around 30 yards from goal, trying to find gaps in the armour, before they inevitably broke through.
This isn’t really a dig at United. They played how a lot of teams set up against City because Pep Guardiola’s team are so much better than all but about four or five sides in the world, never mind in the Premier League. This was obvious and we knew it before the game.
Neither should it necessarily be another layer on United’s cake of despair as they contemplate their rebuild under the guidance of Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Sir Dave Brailsford and the rest of the INEOS boffins.United’s plan was fine, but they’re a long way behind City (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
As a United fan, you might watch that game and be filled with ennui at the idea that this rebuild could take years, particularly if you consider some of the statistics. That was United’s 11th defeat of the season, hot on the heels of the record for most losses suffered by a team who went on to finish in the Premier League’s top six that season (held by Chelsea’s 1997-98 vintage, who lost 15 games). United have also only scored 37 goals, which is the same as 18th-placed Luton Town. From all that, they might think they’re staring down the barrel of another generation of woe.
This might be true — if they use City as their model.
The 3-1 defeat on Sunday should serve as another reminder of just how far City are ahead of their rivals — so far that they’re barely relevant to what United should realistically expect.
More on United’s future under INEOS…
Perhaps, instead of looking to City, as Ratcliffe said they would be doing, they should instead use teams like Aston Villa or Tottenham as their models. Their turnarounds have been much quicker than anyone anticipated. The expectation levels might be different — United’s history dictates that their target is not merely Champions League qualification, but pushing for titles — but it might feel rather more manageable to look at teams who have taken one or two steps up rather than the 10 that separate United and City.
Take Arsenal — it took a few years of being asked to trust Mikel Arteta’s process and the faith certainly wavered in some places, but they pushed for the title last season and are in the race this time. Liverpool, too — they were in the Champions League final in Jurgen Klopp’s second full season.
City are an alien spacecraft. They are naturally, given the rivalry, United’s point of comparison, but they are so far ahead to be unreachable in the foreseeable future. However, a few of the other clubs between them and City are not.Son Heung-min: Tottenham’s reliable cheat code
Spurs are quite a chaotic team, which makes them terrific fun to watch.
That they have now come back to win five games this season after going behind is a case in point. It is exciting and has made for a lot of thrilling late finishes but, at this stage, Ange Postecoglou must be praying for a boring, routine 2-0 win.
Chaos and consistency are not friends and constantly conceding the first goal doesn’t feel sustainable, so a team with Champions League ambitions requires a sure thing, something or someone they can bank on.
Luckily, they have Son, whose brilliance you can judge via a few methods.
First, the eye test. We’ve all known for some time that Son is a sensational footballer. When he was clean through against Crystal Palace at the weekend, did you have any doubt he was going to score?
Next, the most basic statistic: that was Son’s 13th Premier League goal of the season, which is already better than five of his full campaigns at Spurs, including last season. If things continue like this, he could feasibly surpass his best goalscoring season of 2021-22, when he scored 23 league goals.
But you’re all intelligent readers, so let’s move on to some slightly more advanced numbers and point out that Son is an expected goals (xG) cheat code, a forward who consistently scores more goals than the metrics suggest he should. He has outperformed his xG for the past six seasons, as you can see from the below chart, with only the occasional dip in a constant run of graph spikes. Essentially, those blue patches below show he is finishing at a rate that is far above the average and has been doing so for years.
This season, he is outperforming his xG more than any other player in the Premier League. The numbers suggest he should have scored about eight goals, but he has five more than that. Only Jarrod Bowen is close to such an overperformance, then there’s Diogo Jota and then a pretty big gap to the rest.
There have been many inevitable conversations about whether Harry Kane’s absence has set Son free, that the responsibility of being Tottenham’s main source of goals has made him better. It’s not an unreasonable debate, but it misses the point that Son has been this good for a very long time.Nunez and Werner emerge from the ‘bantersphere’
If someone has made their mind up about a player, it’s often quite difficult for that to change. When a whole group of people make their minds up about a player, it’s even more difficult. And when the player enters the collective bantersphere, it’s almost impossible.
Some players very quickly become punchlines, their every move mocked and their successes written off as flukes. They become walking memes, constant sources of fun, which is particularly absurd given they are Premier League footballers.
It’s impossible not to feel pretty sorry for them (as much as one can feel sorry for multi-millionaire athletes) and also impossible not to feel that extra little bit happier for them when they start to do well.
Nunez’s reputation as an unpredictable agent of chaos, a striker just as likely to shank nine shots into the stands as he is to score a crucial goal, does actually have a degree of truth to it. He’s a forward who operates under the law of large numbers, taking so many shots that it’s inevitable that plenty will miss the target. At just a shade under five per 90 minutes, he takes more shots than anyone else in the Premier League.Nunez celebrates his winner at Forest (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
But does it matter when he produces moments like the late winner at Nottingham Forest on Saturday, particularly as he now has 10 goals and seven assists this season, one every 88 minutes? No, it does not.
It’s a similar case for Werner, whose sense of haplessness continued from his time at Chelsea into his move to Tottenham, via RB Leipzig. After he failed to score a one-on-one chance against Crystal Palace, the onslaught of jokes felt inevitable, but then he scored in the second half — a much easier chance, admittedly — but the relief on his face at the time and in his post-match interview was obvious and rather heartwarming.
This is not necessarily a pious call to the banter merchants of the internet to be nice and kind all the time, but more a celebration of the players that rise above it all to succeed.Coming up this week
(Top photos: Getty Images)
It is rather poetic that Liverpool have returned to being one of the most devastating transitional teams in European football this season at a time when they are about to embark upon their own transitional period off the pitch.
A sporting director is the higher priority in the short term, with whoever is appointed set to play a key role in appointing Jurgen Klopp’s successor. Liverpool’s director of research, William Spearman, is running the data-led assessment of managerial options for the prospective sporting director — focusing on young managers with a strong record of developing young talent and who have overachieved with the resources they have.
As far as Liverpool fans are concerned, the manager shortlist has an overwhelming frontrunner, with former midfielder and current Bayer Leverkusen boss Xabi Alonso the preferred candidate.
The gravitational pull of Liverpool’s sentimental value to Alonso — and vice versa — is something few other clubs can offer. That is, of course, aside from another of Alonso’s former clubs, Bayern Munich, who are also on the hunt for a new man in the hot seat this summer with Thomas Tuchel due to leave at the end of the season.
With that in mind, good forward planning suggests that a Plan B, C and D must be considered if Liverpool are not able to land Alonso — but who could they be?
Liverpool next manager contenders: Xabi Alonso, Roberto De Zerbi, Julian Nagelsmann in frameXabi Alonso and Sebastian Hoeness (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
There are a few of the rumoured managers that we can strike from the list nice and early. Spurs manager Ange Postecoglou will not be leaving north London after just one year in charge.
While the departing Bayern boss Tuchel did succeed Klopp at Dortmund in 2015, it would be unlikely that the same would happen at Liverpool this summer given the circumstances of his departure from the current German champions.
As The Athletic have previously reported, Brighton’s Roberto De Zerbi, Newcastle United’s Eddie Howe and Lens’ Franck Haise have profiled well in Liverpool’s data model but are considered less likely to make Liverpool’s final shortlist.
Liverpool latest: Amorim and Nagelsmann data appeals, FSG still wants Edwards
One school of thought surrounding Alonso’s style of play is that it does not directly translate to the strengths of Liverpool’s current squad. Liverpool have returned to their ‘organised chaos’ mantra of direct, transitional football, while Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen play with a 3-4-2-1 setup that focuses more on intricate, patient passing through the thirds, with greater compactness out of possession.
This is an oversimplified perspective for two reasons.
First, it underestimates Alonso’s tactical acumen to adapt to the players in his squad. During his time in charge of Real Sociedad B, he would regularly play with a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 that was underpinned by principles Liverpool already have — principles focused on possession dominance, with progression through central areas and a fierce intensity to counter-press when they lose the ball.
Alonso has worked with some of the world’s top coaches during his playing career — from Pep Guardiola to Rafael Benitez, Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho. Each has their own style and strengths and the intelligent former central midfielder will have drawn on different parts of their management style and incorporated it into his own approach. A simple look at his initial approach at Bayer Leverkusen — where his immediate focus was fixing their defensive problems — was in stark contrast with the current style his side are playing.
Second, the pessimism surrounding a shift in style would be forgetting Liverpool’s own tactical flexibility, having adapted from a dogmatic 4-3-3 to a flexible 3-box-3 over the past 12 months under Klopp.
Liverpool’s data team will undoubtedly cast the manager net wide and be undeterred by factors such as the formation used by a manager. For example, Sporting Lisbon’s Ruben Amorim plays with a strict 3-4-3 but has similar principles based on high possession and high intensity to regain the ball in advanced areas.
Such is the transience of modern-day football that Amorim’s style has become more direct in attack this season since the arrival of battering ram Viktor Gyokeres, who thrives on runs into the channel in transitional moments. Music to the ears of a certain Darwin Nunez, you would suspect.Ruben Amorim (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images)
Not only has Amorim evidenced his desire to bring young talent into the first team — including Goncalo Inacio, Matheus Nunes, Nuno Mendes and Ousmane Diomande — the 39-year-old’s CV is particularly impressive in improving the quality of the team with the resources he has had at his disposal.
This can be shown by Sporting’s ClubElo rating, a measure of team strength that allocates points for every result, weighted by the quality of the opposition faced. Sporting had stalled in the years preceding his arrival, but after a difficult start, Amorim guided them to a first league title for 19 years in 2021-22 — his first full season — with his controlled, possession-dominant style of play.
Amorim is known for his man-management skills and building positive relationships with his players. He may not have had the opportunity to work with the managers Alonso has, but he has learned from playing under the respected and experienced Jorge Jesus at Benfica.
Importantly, he would be attainable this summer. Reports suggest he has a release clause in his contract of around €10million (£8.6m; $10.8) — a relatively modest figure for a highly rated manager who is expected to be in demand with Barcelona, another European giant, hunting for a new leader.
Elsewhere, Julian Nagelsmann may not possess the same man-management skills as Jurgen Klopp, but the 36-year-old is a deep tactical thinker who is believed to profile well in Liverpool’s data model.
As you can see below, Bayern’s style was, unsurprisingly, dominant. Despite their approach being predominantly based on control (Possession, 98 out of 99) and intricate play (Deep build-up, 98 out of 99), Nagelsmann’s side were equally adept at springing forward quickly (Patient attack, 49 out of 99) and punishing their opponents with relentless gegenpressing (Intensity, 92 out of 99).
As evidence of their attacking potency, only Erik ten Hag’s Ajax registered a higher expected goals value per 90 than Nagelsmann’s title-winning side (Chance creation, 98 out of 99) across Europe’s top seven leagues.
The positive spin on Nagelsmann’s style of play is that he is versatile, flexible and pragmatic to ensure his ideas are related more to his principles than a specific system dictated by formation.
The negative spin is that his tendency to tinker his message, formation and tactical setup between games can serve to undermine his approach — with Bayern players having complained that Nagelsmann was overcomplicating things in training and making too many changes during games.
Logistically, appointing Nagelsmann would also put Liverpool on the back foot going into the new season, with him leading the German national team in the European Championship this summer — meaning he could not take charge until mid-July if he were to join.
He would also have a relationship to repair with Liverpool’s supporters, who will remember his “not in awe” comments when, aged 30, he arrived at Anfield with his Hoffenheim side in a Champions League qualifier in 2017. Many thought he disrespected Anfield’s atmosphere while simultaneously firing it up. His side found themselves 3-0 down after 21 minutes.
So, a manager’s current tactical structure is not strictly prescriptive to how they might set up in a new role, but it is worth identifying which clubs across Europe’s top seven leagues have a stylistically related approach to Liverpool this season.
To do this, we can use our similarity analysis to map out the top five most similar sides — based on our 12 metrics outlined above.
As you would expect, there is a strong German influence in the results, with RB Leipzig, Stuttgart and Klopp’s former employers Borussia Dortmund among the most similar matches.
Liverpool’s low “Patient attack” rating (28 out of 99) highlights the fast, transitional style Klopp’s side have played with this season, with no Premier League team having more direct attacks — defined by Opta as “open play sequences that start inside the team’s own half, has at least 50 per cent movement towards the opposition’s goal, and ends in a shot or a touch in the opposition box” — than their 68 this season.
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s fierce counter-pressing has returned this season as they often squeeze the pitch (High line, 84 out of 99) and quickly swarm the opposition if they do lose possession (Intensity, 91 out of 99).
If it were not for the performances of Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen, Sebastian Hoeness would be on the lips of far more people due to the job he has done at Stuttgart this season.
Having been appointed at the end of the 2022-23 season, the 41-year-old guided Stuttgart away from relegation and nearly one year on, they are looking to secure a place in next year’s Champions League.
Eurowatch: Stuttgart cowered last season. Sebastian Hoeness has given them courage
From a low-possession, counter-attacking team last campaign, Hoeness has transformed Stuttgart into a dominant, progressive side who are now clinical in pressing from the front (Intensity, 76 out of 99). Only Alonso’s Leverkusen (50) have generated more shot-ending high turnovers than Stuttgart (37) this season.
Unsurprisingly, Hoeness’ style draws parallels with the Red Bull model of football based upon high intensity and aggression on and off the ball — and with good reason. Stuttgart’s boss spent three years coaching within RB Leizpig’s youth system before winning Germany’s third division with Bayern Munich’s second team in 2020 – the first reserve team to ever win that title.
With his experience in youth setups, Hoeness is comfortable bringing young players into his first team — with young playmaker Enzo Millot (21) and former Bayern Munich midfielder Angelo Stiller (22) trusted with key roles in Stuttgart’s European push this season. Similarly, Hoeness worked with United States international Chris Richards at Bayern and Hoffenheim, with the 23-year-old’s performances earning him a move to Crystal Palace last season.
His contract runs until 2025, so by the summer, he would only have 12 months remaining, meaning compensation would be small. He has plenty of admirers still at Bayern Munich, not least his uncle, Uli Hoeness, who is Bayern’s honorary president. The likeness might be a little too on the nose, but if Liverpool were to seek out another talented German coach from the Bundesliga, Hoeness has good reason to be in that conversation.
There is an obligation for the modern manager to be synonymous with the buzzwords of “attractive, high-energy, attacking” football. It certainly helps if the manager is also able to demonstrate title-winning success with such principles of play.
Arne Slot falls into this category having led Feyenoord to only their second Eredivisie title in 20 years last season — losing just two games in the process.
Slot will most commonly set up with a 4-2-3-1 formation in possession, using a midfield double pivot to progress centrally through the first line of pressure. Beyond the high-possession, high-pressing, clinical attacking football evidenced by their playstyle wheel above, the 45-year-old has shown that he can achieve success without frivolous spending — a trait that will be attractive to FSG and their strategic approach.Arne Slot (Olaf Kraak/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)
Feyenoord have not spent more than €8million on a player in the club’s history, with a revenue that is comfortably trumped by Dutch rivals PSV and Ajax. With the model that Feyenoord have, Slot has demonstrated his penchant for improving the value of the players he has and promoting youth from the academy. Sound familiar?
Slot was highly coveted by Tottenham Hotspur last summer and was close to moving to north London before choosing to remain in the Netherlands and extend his contract until 2026. At the time, Slot said his wish was “to stay at Feyenoord and continue to build on the foundation that has been laid over the past two seasons”.
Whether Slot could be prised away from the Netherlands this summer is unknown, but the data shows how his aggressive, dominant style of play is ideally suited to Liverpool’s current crop.
Access all areas at Arne Slot's Feyenoord: Kickboxing, Beckham clips and why he stayed
Our final data-led pick takes us to France, where Lille’s Paulo Fonseca has garnered a lot of attention for his attractive style of play in Ligue 1 this season.
Typically employing a 4-2-3-1 system, the 50-year-old has shown a willingness to adapt to maximise the attributes of his players. Having managed in Portugal, Ukraine, Italy and France, the exposure to different leagues and different stylistic approaches is regarded as a huge positive in Fonseca’s skill set.
As you can see by Lille’s playing style above, Fonseca’s mantra is to dominate the ball and draw teams onto them (Deep build-up, 84 out of 99), before springing forward with pace and purpose (Patient attack, 49 out of 99).
“Our game is attraction,” Fonseca recently told The Athletic. “We want teams to press us so that we can find space, so we take many risks. Especially when we build up because our first phase — with our different structures and how we accelerate and decelerate the game — is what allows us to dominate.”Paulo Fonseca (Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty Images)
Fonseca might be an outside shout in the eyes of many, but he would be available come the summer. His contract at Lille is due to expire at the end of the season and earlier this month it was reported no talks over a renewal had taken place.
Paulo Fonseca interview: 'This type of game is not for weak players'
Liverpool will leave no stone unturned in their search for a new manager and the club will not be rushed into confirming a chosen candidate.
“The way we operate as a football club is to ensure that we’ve looked at all the information, all the data, we’ve done our proper due diligence,” said chief executive officer Billy Hogan. “Then we’ll make a decision and we’ll have an announcement at that time.”
With Liverpool still fighting on multiple fronts, the situation must be delicately handled to ensure there are no distractions on the pitch. In the same breath, fans will be acutely aware of the increasing uncertainty hanging over the club.
It’s time to turn that longlist into a shortlist.
(Top photos: Getty Images)