Full of confidence and proving a real game-changer for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, the sparkling form of Darwin Nunez has been a huge boost for the Merseyside giants.
Having endured a difficult debut season at Anfield, where he mixed the highs and lows while still managing a solid 15 goals in all competitions, the Uruguayan hitman has come out firing this term.
Although he still has his moments and can underwhelm at times with his finishing, there’s no doubting he’s taken a step forward, for he’s cutting a revitalised, fearless figure, especially since his electric display vs. Newcastle United off the bench.
Producing the goods for both club and country, Nunez has registered six goals and seven assists all up, with him impressively enjoying a goal contribution less than every 70 minutes. Not bad at all.
Coming a long way in terms of adapting to life in Liverpool and Klopp’s demands, this, in alliance with ever-improving relationships with his teammates and huge strides in his English, have also been crucial towards his success.
Experiencing a handy uptick in terms of his finishing, this has meant he’s rewarding all his quality work far more frequently. Clearly taking on board Klopp’s advice to take his time when in quality positions, it’s been admirable how swiftly this has resonated. “He has told me I have to be calm when it comes to finishing,” Nunez insisted. “He wants me to take a second longer, because if I shoot with anger, or I rush it, it will always go badly.”
Scoring some hugely important goals with equally impressive precision, power, authority and placement, it’ll be intriguing observing if he can continue his rich vein of form in front of goal or if his streaky ways return.
Many positives can also be extracted from his creativity and incision in the final third to provide others with excellent chances. Underlining what an important string this is to his bow, teammates have benefited from his service. Whether it be striking through balls in behind, smart crosses and cutbacks, partaking in intricate link play in confined zones, switching the angle of attacks or hitting crisp upfield passes to feet, he’s contributing admirably in this area.
Undisputedly one of the fastest players in the world and an absolute nightmare for defenders to contain, Nunez is a serious menace in transition and when running in behind. So explosive, timing his runs intelligently to attack dangerous areas and great at evading markers, he’s nigh on impossible to stop when in full flight.
Alert to vacant spaces and an astute reader of the play, these aspects help him to shrewdly gain separation and pick when to pounce.
Constantly putting himself in advantageous areas to score or threaten and relishing running into space against retreating backlines on the counter, it’s little wonder why Klopp rates his work in this compartment so highly.
The fact he manufactures space frequently for his colleagues is also crucial, for his presence often pins, attracts multiple markers and manipulates marking structures.
Supplementing the aforementioned with his cunning runs into box, foes struggle to keep tabs on him, particularly when he exploits their blindside and sneakily evades adversaries with subtle footwork to gain an edge.
Serving as a brilliant focal point and target man when his team need to go long, there’s been plenty to like about his strong back to goal play and aerial prowess too, for this helps his team secure possession higher up and breathe life into moves from nothing.
Defending with aggression and intensity, Klopp’s been very impressed with his pressing, counterpressing and overall work out of possession.
Hunting down his targets ferociously and covering the turf rapidly, the way he’s successfully closed down opponents, forced them into mistakes and directly caused turnovers have been massive upsides as well.
How he’s tracked back diligently, fulfilled his designated marking assignments coherently and selflessly supported teammates has been valuable too, with this serving as a testament to his dedication to the cause. “The defensive work he puts in is probably the main difference. He always wanted (to do it), but it was less coordinated. Now that looks much better,” Klopp asserted.
By the numbers, upon comparing him to star fellow Liverpool star in Mohamed Salah this season using Wyscout data, Nunez admirably holds the ascendancy and matches the Egyptian in a host of metrics such as shots per 90, assists, assists p90, offensive duels won percentage, final third passing accuracy, successful defensive actions p90, aerial duels p90, aerial duels won percentage and interceptions p90.
Growing into an extremely complete package while still maintaining that element of unpredictability, it’s little wonder defenders have found him a nuisance to face off against and why his teammates love having him on their side.
“Compliments to Darwin. The fans love him. He has this extreme mentality to run, to fight, to arrive in positions where nobody thinks he can arrive,” said Liverpool assistant manager Pepijn Lijnders.
“It’s been really important that he stepped up, not just offensively but defensively as well. It’s nice to see him in a good moment. He’s a pure intuition player. He smells and he goes, he sees and he does. What happened for him away at Newcastle would change any player’s life — to change a game like that. Those two goals gave him confidence and an intuition player like Darwin needs this kind of confidence.
“He speaks better English already and he’s invested a lot in himself. He’s been training really hard and has done since pre-season.”
Operating at a level resembling his best and refining his game all the time in his relentless pursuit to be the best he can be, Nunez’s progress and eye-catching start to the crusade has been a major highlight for the Reds.
Boasting that unique quality of being able to turn a game on its head with a moment of pure class, the gifted hotshot’s certainty vindicating Klopp’s decision to persist with him and continually hand him opportunities.
Ready to truly breakthrough to fulfil his enormous potential within Liverpool’s scintillating attacking ranks, the only real problem will be battling it out for coveted starts vs. his superstar colleagues.
This is something he’ll relish and not be stressed about, though, for he’s always ready to impact either as a starter or off the bench, and do everything in his power for the betterment of his team.
In the form of his life and fresh off scoring and assisting for Uruguay in their statement triumph over Brazil, any future challengers will need some good luck and to be right on top of their game to stop Liverpool’s excitement machine, for when he’s fully fit and firing he’s ostensibly unplayable – which many have already found out and many more undoubtedly will.