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How Marcelino Nunez Is Revitalising Norwich's Midfield

Last season, it was clear that Norwich needed reinforcements in midfield. Time and time again, the Canaries were dominated in the middle of the park, with the players they had recruited mostly on loan deals frequently failing to take control of games and make an impact. Billy Gilmour’s time at Norwich proved to be underwhelming, and Mathius Normann was sent back to his parent club after being deemed surplus to requirement. After sinking back down to the Championship, it was clear that Norwich would need to bring in new midfielders if they wanted to succeed once more.

One of their new recruitments is Marcelino Nunez. An exciting player, Nunez broke into the CD Universidad Catolica team at a young age, making his debut in February 2020 at the age of 20. During his time at the club, Nunez made 83 appearances for his team, scoring 11 times and assisting another 12 goals. His impressive performances in Chile’s top division earned him a call up to the Chilean international side, an amazing feat for such a young player to do. So far, he has made 10 appearances for his country and scored his first goal just a few months ago in a World Cup qualifier match against Bolivia.

Nevertheless, signing for Norwich City, a club who have their eyes on promotion back to the top flight, was always going to be a big step up for Nunez. Many Canaries believed that it would take time for Nunez to settle before he was able to perform to the high standards that he demonstrated in the Chilean league.

Few would have predicted the enormous impact Nunez would have on the Canaries. There is no doubt that Nunez is a special talent, but when he plays, the entire Norwich team look rejuvenated and perform better. He has breathed much needed fresh air into a Norwich midfield that looked hopelessly inept. So far this season, the Chilean midfielder has provided the consistency that Norwich seemed so desperately last season, and he helps the team with both offensive and defensive passages of play. Norwich now look like a team that attacks and defends with confidence. Nunez has started 6 games for the Canaries at the time of writing, with the team winning 5 of these games and losing just one. That’s quite the statistic.

Even in Norwich City’s disappointing loss against Hull, Nunez once again proved to be a bright spark for the Canaries. In the 72nd minute, when Norwich found themselves down, Nunez curled a beautiful free kick into the top right corner. Although his team eventually went on to lose 2-1 to the The Tigers, his spectacular effort was a brilliant way to introduce himself to the fans. As well as his goal, Nunez was Norwich’s best player on the pitch. This was largely due to his playmarking efforts: Nunez accumulated an xA (expected assists) of 0.64, with 20 passes into the final third, 4 of them creating big chances for his teammates.

Nunez certainly did not deserve to be on the losing side after such a fantastic performance, but it was one positive that the Canary faithful could take away from a disappointing away day.

When looking at Nunez’s performances in more detail, one may be inclined to say that he has been unlucky to only score one goal for the Canaries so far. The Chilean has an incredible shot on him, and many of his shots so far have been on target. He is currently averaging a very respectable 3.16 shots per 90, with 0.79 of these attempts being on target. These are impressive statistics for a midfielder who primarily creates and has two goal threats in the form of Teemu Pukki and Josh Sagarent in front of him.

Nunez so far this season has achieved one assist for the Canaries along with his beauty of a free kick. The assist came against Coventry City, and was a crucial opening goal for his team. Nunez intercepted the ball high up the pitch from midfield, before playing a ball perfectly into the path of star striker Teemu Pukki, who slotted the ball into the bottom right corner. The pressing move and the following pass from Nunez to Pukki is incredibly similar to the moves that former player Emi Buendia used to conduct for the Canaries.

Following his transfer to Aston Villa last summer, Norwich City desperately missed Buendia’s passing and creativity in games, with the team often looking passive. If Nunez is able to strike up a creative understanding with Pukki or whoever is playing in the striker position, Norwich City will be able to score a lot more goals and have a lot more chances in game.

One assist may seem underwhelming for a player with such creative aptitude, but Nunez has frequently acted as the main force behind an attacking move that will not be reflected in his statistics. The midfielder, among his many other talents, has an exceptional talent for passing and can expand forward passages of play with long balls to the flanks. For example, in Norwich’s game against Coventry, Nunez attempted 18 long balls, 15 of them successfully reaching a Norwich player.

As well as distributing long balls, Nunez has also been the creator of big chances that his teammates have failed to capitalise on. This was particularly apparent during Norwich City’s 2-0n win against Millwall, where Nunez created 3 big chances as well as taking on 4 shots himself. He is frequently becoming the man to lead the Canaries forward, averaging nearly 2 dribbles per game in the Championship so far.

The Chilean has also executed his defensive duties superbly in midfield too. Nunez has consistently demonstrated his ability to stop a turnover in play from the opposition team; an attribute that Norwich were so often lacking in the Premier League last season. Once he has regained possession, Nunez likes to hunt for a progressive pass forward to create a chance, but he is often not hesitant to play the safe pass to retain the ball for his side. Because of this, he has achieved a relative high pass accuracy of 83.3% during his time in the EFL Championship so far. More than anything else, Nunez looks confident and assured on the ball, giving those around him a renewed sense of confidence.

Nunez also has natural flair and hypnotising footwork, which he has been keen to demonstrate during the matches he has played so far. Unlike some players however, Nunez’s quick footwork usually helps an attacking move come to fruition; he likes to have the ball close to his feet and quickly turn using his incredible footwork, before pinging the ball up the field to a City winger. The Chilean demonstrated this move against Birmingham City, with the impressive passage of play being noted by many Canaries after the game. Nunez has also the ability to quickly turn his body in order to evade defenders, with some of his body feints resembling Liverpool’s Thiago Alcantara’s in their execution and quality.

Manager Dean Smith has also recently gone into detail as to how Nunez is already a popular figure within the dressing room and how he excludes positivity. In a recent press conference, Smith stated that “he has settled in very well and is very infectious around the group. It’s funny seeing him try to have a conversation, he just speaks to them in Spanish and expects them to understand him, but they speak back in English and they both laugh!” To have such a positive impact in such a short time within the Norwich City camp is clearly a very good sign, and Nunez’s performances reflect how well he has settled into Canary life.

The midfielder’s confidence should not come as a surprise, considering that during a penalty shootout in the Carabao Cup against Birmingham City, Nunez scored a panenka, bewildering the goalkeeper. It is this type of self assurance and confidence that Norwich were lacking last season.

For Marcelino Nunez, the sky's the limit. In his short time at Norwich City so far, the midfielder has illustrated his eye-catching passing and eye for goal, whilst also not being afraid to press up the pitch and win the ball back for his team. At just 22 years old, Nunez has the potential to be world class and he has a lot of time to iron out weaknesses in his play. Norwich’s target this season is to regain promotion back to the Premier League, and Marcelino Nunez will no doubt be a key player in helping them return to the top flight. The Chilean is a midfielder to watch.

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