Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez Evolution: 6ft 2in striker can TRANSFORM Jurgen Klopp’s attack
Missing out on a point from the Premier League title and losing the Champions League final by one goal proves Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool aren’t missing much.
Their stunning quadruple pursuit lasted until the end of May but was crushed by Premier League champions Manchester City and then Paris amid chaotic scenes to Real Madrid.
Mohamed Salah was again sublime; Diogo Jota scored 21 valuable goals in all competitions; Sadio Mane was electric, 23 of his own grids; Divock Origi and Roberto Firmino combined for another 17; on offense, Klopp had an artillery that his rivals were jealous of.
But as good as this side of Liverpool was – and is – it felt like a piece of the puzzle short, an orthodox number 9 that would really give Klopp the freedom he needs to win it all. And that is what Darwin Nunez stands for. Orthodox. Traditional. The type of striker Klopp has shied away from since he switched to Christian Benteke in 2018.
Darwin Nunez could prove to be the missing piece for Liverpool as their orthodox number 9 figure
Looks like he’s going to put together a devastating front three with Luis Diaz (left) and Mohamed Salah (right)
Klopp has picked up pace, not least because it’s the one trait that scares defenders the most, and secondly, it’s imperative in the 4-3-3 gegenpressing system he’s hung his hat on thus far.
Mane and Salah have long held the authority on the wings, with Firmino the glue man making much of the interplay with a three-man midfield stick.
And it would be a great success. They won a Premier League title and stuck to that plan and those principles.
However, evolution — and expect that word to crop up a lot as more and more prose is written around Darwin Nunez — is a fact. Now a moment that even Klopp knows feels like it’s time to do something new, rather than more of the same.
sports post revealed on Wednesday how Liverpool are poised to break their transfer record to get the Uruguayan out of Benfica, with a fee totaling £85million.
It’s a high fee for a club that has typically been looking for more financially sensible deals compared to some of their rivals.
Nunez is, however, a generational talent that Luis Suarez urged Barcelona to sign and both Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani lobbied for Manchester United.
†[Nunez is a good fit] not only for the coach himself, who is a motivator and enthusiastic, but also for the style of play he pushes,” Jose Gomes, Nunez’s coach during his time in Spain at Almeira, told the Portuguese newspaper. file†
‘Klopp likes to look for spaces behind opposing lines of defense, which means we can say that Darwin will feel like a fish in water, because speed and quick attack are qualities he prefers.’
Nunez has skills that contrast with those of Salah, Mane, Firmino, Jota, the outgoing Origi and January signing Luis Diaz.
Nunez is a devastating finisher, appearing to step in from the left to creep into the far corner
Jurgen Klopp usually prefers wingers and wide strikers, but Nunez seems to be special
The first thing to note is that at six feet tall, Nunez is excellent in the air, a real threat, something that Klopp’s frontline has traded for speed and dribbling penetration.
Take last season’s frustrating 1-1 draw at Anfield against Tottenham, a game that, had they won that game, might have reshaped the title race as we know it.
In that match, Klopp’s side produced 46 crosses – the most by any team in one game during the 2021-22 season. None of the 46 defeated Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris. That is a problem.
Add to that the fact that Trent Alexander-Arnold produced more crosses from right-back than any player in the rest of the league. Service is not the problem. Having size was.
Nunez doesn’t have the muscle mass of Romelu Lukaku or, if he turns the clock back a tick, Didier Drogba in his Chelsea heyday, but the Uruguayan loves to pin on a central defender and go head-to-head in the physical struggle.
You don’t think a Uruguayan striker, backed by Suarez, would evade the physical side of the game, do you?
It is Nunez’s size, as well as his tactical versatility, that makes him incredibly attractive, not just for Liverpool.
He is only 22 and has shown to be effective in a 4-4-2, a 3-4-3, a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 system.
Should Klopp choose to stick with his 4-3-3 system, expect Nunez to slide between Salah, wide on the right, and Diaz, on the left, with Mane almost certain to leave for Bayern Munich, despite two rejected opening bids.
Nunez is an instinctive finisher who has no qualms about staying high on defense.
His air skills would thrive at Liverpool, given the service they provide from the fullbacks
It was a rapid rise for Nunez – in 2019 he played for Uruguayan boys’ club Penarol
Typically strikers are itching to sink deeper and deeper in an attempt to stay engaged, but playing this system in Portugal Nunez has shown a tendency to flip over on offense, usually alternating with the left winger.
As a right-footed finisher, there’s the play pattern where he often drifts wide to the left to both drag the mid-backs apart, but also allow him to flip, cut inward to the right and curl to the far corner.
Analyzed purely as a finisher, with every move likely to see him often compared to Manchester City-bound Erling Haaland, Nunez finds himself in truly elite company.
Only Robert Lewandowski (35), Kylian Mbappe (28), Karim Benzema (27) and Ciro Immobile (27) scored more league goals in Europe’s top five last season than Nunez for Benfica.
In fact, as quoted in a brilliant analysis of his playing by the analysthis league minutes-per-goal return of 76 minutes put him at No. 1 in the same top five leagues for all strikers given at least 1,000 minutes.
More? Take his Champions League appearances, just against Liverpool, at home and away, has undoubtedly left an impression on Klopp.
In that competition, he took 16 shots and scored six goals. With a rate of 2.67 shots per goal, there are few criticisms of Nunez’s ability as a marksman.
The most interesting aspect of any move for Nunez is the options he offers to play alone up front or in a partnership.
Divock Origi is leaving this summer, the only thing to come close to a real No 9 at the club recently
Jurgen Klopp was not in favor of Christian Benteke, but the Belgian still praises the boss
An analysis of his time in Spain, where he spent just one season with Almeria, shows Nunez did well with an attacking partner in a 4-4-2, finishing with 16 league goals.
Back that up with Benfica’s 2020-21 season, in which he again led the way in a 4-4-2.
That Benfica squad relied heavily on full-backs providing the breadth – with midfielders reversing to near number 10. That shouldn’t be a problem for Liverpool, given the attacking qualities of both Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.
Right now Liverpool would have a front two of Mane-Salah, Salah-Diaz, Salah-Firmino, Jota-Firmino or Jota-Salah and while they are powerful they all lack a traditional number 9 to make everything stick.
Diaz is better off the left, Salah is more deadly if given the space to build a big strength, Firmino often sinks deep to tie the game and Jota’s lack of size makes him useful at number 10 or in a wide role .
In fact, compared to Salah and Mane last season, in data shared by Red Zone on TwitterNunez came out on top in goals scored, goals per game, minutes per goal, conversion rate and shot accuracy.
And so Nunez would provide that presence to build on, should a 4-4-2 capture Klopp.
It’s Nunez’s appetite to drift wide to the left, which could allow Klopp to take on a 4-2-3-1, with Diaz on the left, Salah on the right and one of Harvey Elliott or Summer bringing in Fabio Carvalho at number 10 .
Nunez is so versatile and has been deployed in 4-3-3, 4-3-2-1, 4-4-2 and 3-4-2 tactical systems
Nunez could help unlock youngsters like Harvey Elliott (right) with his heist skills
Firmino could also play in that role, as could Jota, but the centerpiece of the team would start and end with Nunez in a revamped line-up to take on the challenge for City.
A free flowing front three, with Diaz able to move centrally and Nunez allowed to drift to the left, would be a perilous task to keep under control and 48 goals in 85 appearances for Benfica proves just how slippery a client he is.
“Klopp is still the best manager I’ve worked with, although I haven’t played much,” Christian Benteke told Belgian outlet HLN after he left. For a player being shunned, that speaks volumes about how good Klopp could be to Nunez, just as Nunez could be to Liverpool.
Orthodox No. 9s are a rarity for Klopp, but the man is at the top of the game and knows a gem when he sees one.
After all, Uruguay knows a thing or two about producing top strikers…