There can be fewer more polarising footballers in the Premier League than Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez at the moment, with the Uruguayan having represented somewhat of an enigma during his spell in England to date.
One minute he’s missing a gilt-edged chance which makes you question why Liverpool ever thought it was wise to part with £85m for his signature, and the next his undeniable athletic prowess prompts you to sit up and acknowledge his merits.
From the ridiculous to the sublime, one thing that is beyond doubt regarding Nunez 18 months into his Premier League career is his entertainment value.
The 24-year-old’s brace in Liverpool’s 4-0 win at Bournemouth in their last Premier League outing displayed Nunez at his potent best, and there is a growing feel that the Uruguayan is beginning to come into his own for the Reds.
We explore Nunez’s Liverpool career to date and what he offers Jurgen Klopp's side in the latest edition of In Focus…
To say Darwin Nunez’s time at Liverpool has been far from smooth sailing would be quite the understatement.
Joining as Liverpool’s club-record signing for £85m in June 2022 – the same summer Manchester City snapped up a certain Erling Haaland – Nunez endured a difficult first season at Anfield as he struggled to live up to expectations, helped in no part by his Norwegian adversary’s unprecedented exploits at the Etihad.
Signed by the Merseysiders off the back of a 34-goal campaign for Benfica in 2021/22, Nunez could only muster nine Premier League goals in his debut season in England with a larger catalogue of humiliating misses to look back on.
Regularly ranking near the top of the Premier League’s Expected Goals metric, the raw Uruguayan’s erratic finishing saw his ability become widely questioned.
This can be acknowledged to represent the dichotomy of Darwin: the consistent and eye-catching ability to find himself in the right positions to score and the mind-boggling lack of conviction when presented with such opportunities.
Yet despite his struggles in front of goal, the uniqueness of Nunez’s striking attributes have been conspicuous ever since he set foot in England.
Tall, fast and powerful, Nunez also boasts a typically South American competitive spirit and willingness to fight for every ball.
This skillset has ensured that for every match Nunez has failed to score in, he has rarely failed to impact the proceedings in some kind of way.
His second season in England has been equally punctuated by wasteful finishing thus far, but there are growing signs that in Nunez, Liverpool could have a top level striker on their hands after all.
Just perhaps not the striker they thought that had signed when acquiring the free-scoring Uruguayan from Benfica.
With the popular Roberto Firmino moving on from Anfield, there was a widely held viewpoint that Liverpool ought to recruit more of a classic number nine to replace the Brazilian, who spent the majority of his time at the club as more of a facilitating false nine.
Nunez doesn’t appear to fit either of these profiles of striker as of yet.
Deployed both centrally and off the left flank for Liverpool so far this season, only three attacking players – teammate Salah, Ollie Watkins and Pedro Neto – have recorded more than Nunez’s tally of six Premier League assists.
Catching the eye in Liverpool’s 4-0 dismantling of Bournemouth last time out, Nunez became the first Premier League player to register 10+ goals and assists in all competitions this term.
Only two Liverpool players have reached 10+ goals and assists in all competitions in fewer games than the Uruguayan's record of 31 this season - Steven Gerrard (2007/08 & 2013/14) and Luis Suarez (2013/14).
Some company for Nunez to find himself in.
This ability to create goals as well as score them helps to display what Nunez is all about, with his relentless running and elusive movement regularly making things happen in the final third for his team.
With the prolific Mo Salah remaining Liverpool’s primary goal threat as the Premier League’s joint-top scorer with 14, perhaps this is a dynamic which works just fine for the current table toppers.
Darwin is full of desire. If we would only judge players on goals it would be so unfair because in our way when we have reached our targets it was always about the collective.
- Liverpool assistant manager Pep Lijnders, December 2023
Given the volume of glorious chances Nunez has spurned since arriving at the club, and the team’s failure to accrue any major silverware or qualify for the Champions League last term, Liverpool supporters could have been forgiven for losing hope in their £85m marquee signing.
This has yet to transpire, however, with Nunez conversely having developed into a cult figure at Anfield - a fans’ favourite who regularly has his name yelled from the Kop.
It’s not difficult to see why Nunez is so well liked by Liverpool’s ardent fans.
Hard-working, free-spirited, fiery, Nunez taps into the heart of what the club is all about.
In many ways, Nunez also embodies the spirit synonymous with the identity of the much-loved Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s teams, which are constructed to outrun and overwhelm the opposition.
Coined ‘Captain chaos’ by sections of the Liverpool support, Nunez provides this Reds side with an unpredictable edge in attack which must be almost impossible to defend against.
Nunez appears to have harnessed the unrelenting support he has received from the Anfield faithful, with the Uruguayan a true team player who celebrates every goal as if it’s last.
The great thing about Darwin, which is what fans love in players, is that he never gives up. He always has a go.
- Liverpool legend Phil Thompson, January 2024
With Liverpool currently without the services of talisman Mo Salah due to his participation at AFCON, we are perhaps currently being offered a telling insight into what the future may look like at Anfield, with the 31-year-old not getting any younger and perennially linked with a lucrative move to the Saudi Pro League.
Any concerns surrounding Liverpool’s capacity to cope without the Egyptian King were silenced in style in the Reds’ 4-0 demolition of Bournemouth, with Nunez and Diogo Jota bagging a brace each.
Displaying his versatility having begun the match on the left of the front three before leading the line in the second period, Nunez demonstrated an uncharacteristic calmness in front of goal to slot home Liverpool’s opener before showing a ruthless striker’s instinct to round off the rout.
In one of his finest performances in a Liverpool shirt to date, Nunez showcased what he is truly capable of when everything comes together.
It is easy to forget that the Uruguayan is only 24 years old, and some way off hitting what is usually considered the prime of a footballer’s career.
Working under one of the best managers in Europe in Klopp and learning from some of the best players on the planet every day can only improve his skillset further, regardless of what is written about his supposed fundamental technical deficiencies.
Nunez certainly casts a figure of a young man hungry to work hard in order to become the best player he possibly can be, and given the impact he has already had in short time in England, this seems a daunting thought as far as the rest of the Premier League is concerned.
When it comes to finding a replacement for Mo Salah as Liverpool’s main man in attack when the Egyptian eventually does move on, which might well be sooner than previously anticipated, the Reds may already have a solution in the form of the enigma that is Darwin Nunez.
I’m a bit afraid of the heights he can reach because there is so much there, it is crazy.
- Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, November 2023