Watching Liverpool’s defeat to Rb Salzburg last night, I couldn’t help but wish Jurgen Klopp had fielded his blockbuster signing Darwin Nunez with the good lads in the second-half…
Nunez toiled in the first, with Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho as his wingers, but ultimately, couldn’t find the back of the net.
He had two big chances and hit the bar, proving again that his movement and positioning in the box is exceptional. His touch wasn’t quite as sharp as it was against Rb Leipzig, but it’s pre-season; it isn’t meant to be perfect – especially given the physical demands of the current training sessions.
Naturally, as is the bizarre fashion this summer, malnourished, socially-starved teenagers immediately clipped up compilations of Nunez’s ‘fails’ and went viral in the process. It’s the summer holidays, lads – go climb some trees and make some real life friends.
But all I can see from this supposedly damning video is a striker repeatedly getting into dangerous positions and the ball not quite running for him. Nobody scores with every attempt (except Nunez last week when he got four against Rb Leipzig, actually), yet the clips below are being used to mock him? Check it out and decide for yourself…
This lad is going to score buckets and buckets of goals. This is the only thing this video shows me. https://t.co/J1APDYYLp0
— Empire of the Kop (@empireofthekop) July 28, 2022
Klopp himself recognised that Nunez would have benefitted from getting minutes alongside the first-teamers such as Mo Salah, Luis Diaz and the always impressive Thiago in the second-half.
“We set the boys up and it’s all fine, they can do much better and they had good moments as well. But especially the first half, the majority of players have to get used to what we do,” he said.
“Darwin was much too often alone. Everybody dropped, everybody was involved in the build-up but too wide and we could only pass the ball to Darwin in the box. He had his moments and nearly scored, but he needs much more support around him. You keep other players busy that they cannot focus on him. So many things. Second half, imagine now Darwin would have been there in the box, that would have helped as well.”
In the second, Liverpool dominated territory and had a hatful of chances. But, there was nobody hovering on the six-yard line or the back-post to tap them in.
Roberto Firmino, as always, did his best work outside of the box and when he had a finishing chance, shot tamely. Shooting has never been his strength, but Nunez, unlike the Brazilian, can put his left or right foot through the ball with venom.
Salah and Diaz also cut in regularly, which as Klopp suggested, would have taken attention from Nunez, whose role is to play between the posts and poach chances.
His signing looks an increasingly exciting one. If there was one thing we needed in the second-half last night, as we battered the Austrians and got into promising positions, was a clinical, physical and focal forward. And guess what, we’ve signed him already.
It’s positive that Klopp recognises as much and was quick to explain so in his post-match interview.
In terms of Nunez’s adaptation into the squad, it’s looking pretty seamless. The players clearly like him and everybody has spoken very highly of his personality, ability and work-rate. After all, Klopp has a no dickhead policy when it comes to incoming transfers.
The attention on Nunez so far has been quite odd. Luis Diaz arrived in January for a large sum and went largely ignored by rivals. The Colombian did hit the ground running, in fairness, but Nunez has four goals in four pre-season friendlies; he has too!
Klopp will be quietly excited about his new striker. A player who will enable a tactical evolution at Liverpool.
By using a centre-forward further up the pitch, there will be room for a midfielder to burst forward, occupying the space between the lines that was previously enjoyed by false-9s, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
The former is being linked to Juventus, but he won’t be leaving. Klopp will not weaken his squad right before the season begins, especially with Diogo Jota injured and unavailable.
The Reds lost last night, but the signs are good. Our best players are fit and look hungry. This weekend against Manchester City will be another test, but more important is Fulham a week later. Nunez might just have played himself into the side by then.