Darwin Nunez was withdrawn at the break in Uruguay’s 2-1 World Cup qualifying defeat at Ecuador earlier this week.
Many a Liverpool fan would have been sweating at his early withdrawal, though Uruguay boss Marcelo Bielsa moved to quickly allay those fears, stating Nunez was taken off due to “muscular difficulties.”
Nunez had a tough first season at Liverpool but looks ready to prove doubters wrongGetty
That is a boost for Liverpool as they look to extend their unbeaten run at Wolves on Saturday, live on talkSPORT.
There is no denying that Nunez struggled in his debut campaign in the Premier League. The 24-year-old joined from Benfica on the back of a hugely successful campaign in Liga Bwin, but the transition from Portuguese to English football proved far bumpier than many may have hoped.
A goal in the Community Shield win over Manchester City helped, yet Liverpool had every reason to expect more from their big money addition, who ended the season with just nine goals and three assists to his name.
That he moved to England in the same summer as Erling Haaland, who finished with 36 league goals, didn’t help. The arrival of Cody Gakpo at the start of the year coupled with Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz’s combined returned to fitness threatened to push Nunez further down the pecking order on the Reds frontline.
And this certainly came to pass in the opening weeks of the campaign. Nunez totalled just 28 minutes of game time as Liverpool drew 1-1 at Chelsea before beating Bournemouth 3-1 at Anfield last month.
Then came the dramatic 2-1 win at Newcastle. The Magpies went ahead in the 25th minute through former Everton man Anthony Gordon. Liverpool were reduced to 10 men just three minutes later as Virgil can Dijk received his marching orders. The Reds’ unbeaten run was really threatened at St. James’ Park.
Liverpool, though, dug deep. They clung on, and despite being a man down, Jurgen Klopp’s side managed the game brilliantly. Then, in the 77th minute, Nunez was thrown into action. By full time, he was the Reds’ saviour, scoring twice as Liverpool secured an unlikely 2-1 win. This was a game that bred chaos, and Nunez, as we all know, is the Agent of Chaos.
In the hustle and bustle of Premier League football, there are times where a player needs to act on instinct. Give them a second to think and they doubt themselves. This is Nunez in a nutshell. When he has time to think, he will often find row Z rather than the top corner. Give him the chance to put the ball in the back of the net without a second’s hestitation, and this is where he thrives.
Nunez only scored nine goals in 29 Premier League appearances last season but showed he may be more productive in front of goal this termGetty
At 6ft2in, Nunez is a nightmare for defenders. He likes to pull wide, he’s happy to hold up the ball, challenge for aerial duels and make runs in behind the backline. A centre-back will be in for a bruising time when Nunez is on the pitch, that goes without saying, and while he may not always hit the back of the net, he tires defences that means those in reserve – and Liverpool have plenty in reserve – can capitalise on weary backlines.
That’s not to say Nunez has been brought in to act as Liverpool’s battering ram. The brace against Newcastle is testament to his improving finishing ability.
Yes, Nunez ranks third for big chances missed (3) behind Nicolas Jackson (6) and Ollie Watkins (4) despite registering just 106 minutes of Premier League action, but conversely; he is finding the space to be picked out by teammates be presented with these opportunities. Sooner or later, they will find the back of the net rather than scuff wide of over, and then opponents really need to worry.
Of those to register 50 or more minutes of game time, Nunez is averaging a shot more frequently (every 11.8 minutes) than any other Premier League player.
Liverpool’s frontman has already had more shots (9) than the likes of Alexander Isak (8), Raul Jimenez (7), Michail Antonio (5) and Richarlison (4) despite registering a fraction of the latter quartet’s game time in the Premier League this season.
This may be indicative of a striker snatching at chances, but then the most prolific strikers often boast high shot returns. Get into the position to fire an effort on goal, and you’re more likely to hit the back of the net. This is a key reason why Liverpool must persist with Nunez. They need to embrace the chaos.