Darwin Nunez’s Style of Play
The stats tell a very simple story. Darwin Nunez is a raging bull. A deft, smart bull to be precise. The Uruguayan was clocked at 36.5km/h (via LiverpoolOffside) in the Champions League, (only Bayern Munich’s Alphonse Davies was faster than him) combined with his build, Darwin is difficult to defend.
He is a speedster with long strides, leaving defenders dumbfounded. And not just short sprints, he can run long distances and clash with defenders without breaking sweat. Darwin also has a nasty change of pace in his quiver of delights. Hence the Haaland comparisons.
However, what makes him a truly wonderful prospect is his positioning and spatial awareness. Darwin regularly makes marauding short runs to disorient opposition defence. When combined with his direct runs into spaces, he becomes a raging bull in a china shop. Moreover, he has the improvisation to convert disorientation in defences with dribbles, carries, crosses, and passes.
Darwin likes to drift inside from the left and shoot from his right foot, which is explosive. Truly, his foot makes harmless balls look like heat-seeking missiles. Consequently, he has developed a habit of finding bottom the right-hand corner of the goal.
The Uruguayan mirrors his finishing ability with his physicality by going for power, rather than finesse. He also tends to take more shots and from more difficult positions than what is typically expected of a forward.
He has scored 32 right-footed goals for Benfica in all competitions. Only six of his goals came via his left foot, with nine scored with headers.
How Darwin fits into Liverpool
Nunez’s skillset of incredible athleticism, deft movement, clever positioning and a lethal right foot makes him a monster in transitions. Liverpool are the team when it comes to transitions. Match made in heaven, right?
If you need convincing, picture this: Virgil van Dijk recovers and hoofs the ball forward Luis Diaz latches on to it, beats a defender to release Darwin Nunez. Who accelerates beyond defenders, to rocket the ball to the back of the net.
Also, Trent might benefit from Nunez’s arrival (in terms of assists). Given Nunez’s physicality and already effective heading ability, this would be another potential outlet for Liverpool.
Darwin provides what Liverpool lacks going forward, certainty. Luis Diaz (and Mane before him) specialize in making goals out of thin air. They are the magicians. Mo Salah gives Liverpool consistency but tends to scuff chances. Bobby Firmino’s role is more of a facilitator. Moreover, none of Liverpool’s forwards can bang in a ball (apart from maybe Jota).
Darwin Nunez however, assures Liverpool of rifling the ball into the goal when called upon. He is in the 99th percentile when it comes to goals per shot on target (Salah is in the 68th percentile while Mane is in 83rd percentile). He is also in the 99th percentile when it comes to goals per shot (Salah is in the 64th percentile while Mane is in 87th percentile) [via fbref].
What does he lack?
We have hyped up Nunez but there are some glaring deficiencies in his game that need to be addressed. His link-up play isn’t pretty, he is also a nonce when he has his back to the defenders. His touches and decision-making are also erratic. These attributes of his play conjure up the image of a struggling Lukaku and not of an imposing Haaland.
He has the agility and tact to beat defenders in open spaces but don’t expect him to dribble past defenders if he is walled. Despite his frame, he doesn’t win aerial duels very often, which is concerning.
The Klopp factor
Jurgen Klopp likes diamonds in the rough. He has a Midas touch that turns stuff to gold. Mo Salah, Diogo Jota, and Sadio Mane were that ‘stuff’. And they improved almost overnight. Before Liverpool, Klopp was also responsible in developing a certain Robert Lewandowski. Given the difficulty of the Prem and the learning curve that Klopp worships, Nunez might not start smashing in the goals right away. But Darwin has something that all of the other great forwards have, something that Jurgen Klopp looks for. The drive to be better. Darwin has that in heaps.
Suffice to say, Liverpool have found an answer to Haaland. However, it might take a teeny bit for that answer to become visible.