Darwin Nunez, a striker who has recently signed for Liverpool Football Club, has played 60 minutes of preseason football. Yet, there is already so much negative discourse about the 23 year old talent. During preseason, it is unfair to judge any player, as the purpose of preseason is to monitor fitness and to train for the season ahead. It is especially unfair to judge a player who has just signed for the club and is just starting to learn the system. Nunez did not produce anything special, yet in typical fashion the Internet became obsessed with this performance, with a 30 second montage of his first few touches for Liverpool generating over 1 million views. Despite the negative noise others are trying to generate, manager Jurgen Klopp retains his full confidence in his new striker. He has every reason to.
Signing for Benfica in 2020 at the age of 21, Darwin Nunez instantly showed his abilities and made an impact. In his debut season in the league, he found the net 6 times and registered 10 assists in 29 appearances. He also showcased his abilities in the Europa league, scoring 5 goals and assisting once. It quickly became obvious that Nunez had the ability to score a wide range of goals. His speed was instantly noticeable, allowing him to break defensive lives and produce one on one opportunities with the goalkeeper. At 6ft 1, his height means he has the ability to shrug off defenders using his physicality. Combining his lightning quick speed with his towering height makes Darwin Nunez a formidable opponent, and an amazing option for Klopp to have in his attacking roster.
Nunez’s form only improved during the 21/22 season. In 28 league appearances, he scored 26 goals and generated 4 assists. Once again, Nunez scored a wide range of goals, showing the amount of skill he has in his repertoire. His physical prowess meant he was able to accelerate past defenders and turn them at ease when in front of goal. Crucially, 10 of the goals he scored in the league were game winning goals, exhibiting how he has the ability to take control of the game and lead his team to victory. The Uruguayan striker also scored 5 impressive headed goals in the league, towering over defenders and timing his jump to perfection. Such ability will be utilised heavily in Klopp’s cross heavy system, with superstar right back Trent-Alexander Arnold delivering 133 crosses into the box last season.
The talented striker’s form only continued in the Champions League, and it was in this competition that the wider footballing world started to take notice of his abilities. Nunez made 10 appearances in the Champions League, scoring a notable 6 goals. Benfica were drawn in a tricky Champions League group, with European heavyweights FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich for company. In the first match against FC Barcelona, Nunez made a lightning quick run to evade Sergi Roberto, before cutting inside and sending defender Eric Garcia the wrong way, slotting the ball home into the bottom left corner. Remarkably, this was in the 3rd minute of the match, and it set the precedent for the domination Benfica would demonstrate over Barcelona. They went on to win 3-0, with Darwin Nunez contributing again by scoring a penalty towards the end of the match. Although Benfica did not find a way to win against Bayern Munich, Nunez still scored at the Allianz Arena, with his incredibly powerful shot proving to be too much for goalkeeper Manuel Nuer.
Benfica, who had been labeled as an underdog in the group stage, finished second in the group and advanced into the knockout stages. There is no doubt over the fact that Darwin Nunez played a big part in this achievement. Ajax were their next opponents, and after an exciting 2-2 draw in the first leg, Nunez jumped to reach a cross in the 77th minute, and headed home the goal that sent Benfica to the quarter final of the Champions League. The Benfica away supporters roared in elation, as they celebrated their Uruguayan hero’s crucial goal.
The next opponent that Benfica faced in Champions League quarter final were the notorious Liverpool FC, and it was ultimately these two quarter final legs that sealed Darwin Nunez’s move to Liverpool. Although The Reds took a 2-0 commanding lead into halftime, Nunez was an assertive threat from the first whistle, relentlessly trying to break Liverpool’s defence and to draw fouls from the back four. At the five minute mark, Nunez received the ball and accelerated forward, jumping over a tackle from left back Andy Robertson with ease: a rare sight. Nunez also demonstrated to Klopp that he was not just a traditional striker. In the first half, he tried to burst forward and create chances from the right flank, but as time went on he directed his efforts to the left flank, while also consistently trying to make something happen through the middle.
Nunez’s pressure paid off when a weak clearance in the box from Ibrahima Konate meant that a chance fell his way. The Uruguayan striker took one touch before coolly slotting the ball past Alisson and into the bottom right corner. The ability to be clinical was once again showcased by Nunez in front of goal, on the biggest football stage. It is why the ‘evidence’ that exists of Nunez being ‘unable to score’ is so ridiculous; he has demonstrated his talent repeatedly, and he will again.
Benfica went on to lose the first leg against Liverpool 3-1, but in the second leg they once again replicated the energy that had made Liverpool’s back four look so exposed previously. The main man in Benfica’s attacking movements was Darwin Nunez, who in the first ten minutes broke through Liverpool’s backline and breezed past centre back Joel Matip. It was only due to an interception from Henderson at the very last moment that stopped Nunez from setting up his teammate Goncalo Ramos. This set the precedent for the rest of Nunez’s performance at Anfield in front of his future supporters.
The Uruguayan would have had a first half goal if it wasn’t for an incredibly tight offside call against him. His finish for the disallowed goal was incredibly impressive, and once again showcased that he can be clinical under pressure. In a one on one with Alisson, who was having the best season of his career, Nunez effortlessly lobbed the ball over the imperious goalkeeper and into the net. Despite the offside call, this finish would have no doubt impressed Jurgen Klopp, who has seen very few players get the better of Alisson in a one on one situation.
Nunez kept this intensity up throughout the match, and in the 81st minute he finally got his reward, with a staggering finish around Alisson into the bottom right corner. The final score on the night was a 3-3 draw, meaning that Benfica lost 6-4 on aggregate. However, it is very rare for Liverpool to look so vulnerable and to concede 3 goals at Anfield. Nunez posed a threat throughout the two legs, and was the main catalyst in Benfica’s attacking display.
“He’s a very talented young boy” exclaimed Jurgen Klopp in his post match press conference. “If he stays fit, he has a very bright career ahead of him.” In truth, Nunez had been a target on Liverpool’s scouting radar for over seven years, but it was his dazzling performance against The Reds that sealed his transfer to Merseyside. For a fee of £64 million, rising to £85 million, he was brought to Liverpool for a hefty price.
Darwin Nunez is an extraordinary young striker. His performances, especially in the Champions League, have made his name known across Europe as a rising star. Time and time again, he has proven that he has the ability to be clinical in front of goal and rise to the occasion when his team needs him. It is extremely unfair to judge a player based on 60 minutes of preseason when he is still learning to adapt in a new system, especially a system that is as demanding as Klopp’s gegenpress.
Under Klopp’s reign, Liverpool have very rarely blundered in the transfer market. Many mocked the club over the fees they paid for players such as Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah, yet they have gone on to be two of the best attacking players in world football. After a consistent amount of success in the transfer market, rival fans are desperate to see a new attacking star underwhelm for Liverpool. Every aspect of Darwin Nunez’s game that he has demonstrated so far in his career will prove the doubters wrong. Liverpool once again have a real attacking gem.