Missing out on the Premier League title by a point and losing the Champions League final by a single goal proves Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool aren’t missing much.
Their stunning four-time chase went on until the end of May, only to be wiped out by Premier League champions Manchester City and then in Paris amid chaotic scenes at Real Madrid.
Mohamed Salah was once again sublime; Diogo Jota has scored 21 valid goals in all competitions; Sadio Mane was electric, scoring 23 of his own; Divock Origi and Roberto Firmino combined for 17 more; in attack, Klopp had artillery at his rivals’ envy.
But as good as – and is – this Liverpool side, he seemed like a short piece of the puzzle, an orthodox No.9 who would really give Klopp the freedom he needs to win it all. And that is what Darwin Nunez represents. Orthodox. Traditional. The type of striker Klopp has avoided since joining Christian Benteke in 2018.
Darwin Nunez could prove to be the missing piece for Liverpool as an Orthodox No.9 figure
He looks set to form a devastating front three with Luis Diaz (left) and Mohamed Salah (right)
Klopp opted for pace, not least because it’s the one attribute that scares defenders the most, and secondly, it’s absolutely imperative in the gegenpressing 4-3-3 system that he’s hung up his hat so far .
Mane and Salah have long had authority on the wings, with Firmino the sticky guy who did much of the interaction with a three-man midfield stick.
And it was to be richly successful. They won a Premier League title by sticking to that plan and those principles.
Evolution – and expect that word to come up often as more and more prose is written around Darwin Nunez – is however a fact of life. Now feels for a moment that even Klopp knows it’s time to target something new, rather than more of the same.
sports mail revealed on Wednesday how Liverpool were prepared to break their transfer record to snap the Uruguayan out of Benfica, for a fee totaling £85million.
It’s a big sum for a club that has generally sought more financially cautious deals, compared to some of its rivals.
Nunez, however, is a generational talent who Luis Suarez has urged Barcelona to sign and Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani have lobbied for Manchester United to get.
‘[Nunez is a good fit] not only for the coach himself, who is motivating and enthusiastic, but also for the style of play he pushes,’ said Jose Gomes, Nunez’s coach during his time in Spain with Almeira , to the Portuguese newspaper. Registration.
“Klopp likes to look for spaces behind opposing defensive lines, which means we can say that Darwin will feel like a fish in water, as speed and quick attacking are traits he favors.”
Nunez has a skill set that contrasts with that of Salah, Mane, Firmino, Jota, the departure of Origi and the January acquisition, Luis Diaz.
Nunez is a devastating finisher and looks to cut from the left to curve into the far corner
Jurgen Klopp has generally preferred wingers and wide forwards, but Nunez appears to be special
The first thing to note is that at 6ft 2in, Nunez is excellent in the air, a real threat, something Klopp’s front line has traded in favor of speed and dribbling penetration.
Take last season’s frustrating 1-1 draw at Anfield against Tottenham, a game which, had they won that game, might have reshaped the title race as we know it.
In this game, Klopp’s team produced 46 crosses – the most of any team in a single game throughout the 2021-22 season. None of the 46 have beaten Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris. It is a problem.
Also add that Trent Alexander-Arnold has produced more crosses from right-back than any player in the rest of the league. The service is not the problem. Having size was.
Nunez doesn’t have the muscle mass of Romelu Lukaku or, stepping back in time, Didier Drogba in his Chelsea heyday, but the Uruguayan loves to stick to a centre-back and go head-to-head in the physical battle.
You don’t think a Suarez-backed Uruguay striker would avoid the physical side of the game, do you?
It’s Nunez’s size, as well as his tactical versatility, that makes him incredibly attractive, not just to Liverpool.
At only 22 years old, he has shown an ability to be effective in a 4-4-2, 3-4-3, 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 system.
If Klopp chooses to stick to his 4-3-3 system, expect Nunez to fall between Salah, wide on the right, and Diaz, on the left, with Mane almost certain to leave for Bayern Munich despite two rejected opening offers.
Nunez is an instinctive finisher who has no qualms about staying high and pinned on defense.
His aerial prowess would thrive at Liverpool, given the service provided by the full-backs
It was a quick rise for Nunez – in 2019 he was playing for boyhood club Penarol in Uruguay
As a rule strikers are keen to sink deeper and deeper in a bid to stay involved, but playing this system in Portugal Nunez has shown, where appropriate, that his tendency is to spin through the attack , usually trading with the left winger.
As a right-footed finisher, there’s the pattern of play in which he often drifts wide to the left to both get centre-backs out of the way, but also to allow him to reverse, cut inside on his straight and curving for the far corner.
Analyzed only as a finisher, with any move likely to see him frequently compared to Manchester City-linked Erling Haaland, Nunez finds himself in the company of true elite.
Only Robert Lewandowski (35), Kylian Mbappe (28), Karim Benzema (27) and Ciro Immobile (27) scored more league goals last season across Europe’s top five leagues than Nunez for Benfica.
In fact, as quoted in a brilliant analysis of his game by The Analyst, his return of 76 minutes per goal in the league put him at No. 1 in the same top five leagues for all strikers who got at least 1,000 minutes.
After? Take his performances in the Champions League, netting against Liverpool home and away has undoubtedly left an impression on Klopp.
In this competition, he took 16 shots and scored six goals. At a rate of 2.67 shots per goal, little criticism can be leveled at Nunez’s ability as a marksman.
The most interesting aspect of any move for Nunez is the options it offers to play alone up front or in partnership.
Divock Origi leaves this summer, the only thing close to a real No.9 at the club recently
Jurgen Klopp didn’t favor Christian Benteke but the Belgian still praises the boss
An analysis of his time in Spain, where he spent just one season with Almería, shows Nunez thrived with a strike partner in a 4-4-2, finishing with 16 league goals.
Confirm this with Benfica’s 2020-21 season, in which, again, they found themselves on top in a 4-4-2.
This Benfica side relied heavily on full-backs providing the width – with midfielders increasing to almost 10. This should pose no problem for Liverpool giving the attacking attributes of Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.
Right now Liverpool are said to have two fronts of Mane-Salah, Salah-Diaz, Salah-Firmino, Jota-Firmino or Jota-Salah and while powerful, all lack a traditional No.9 to make it all stick together.
Diaz is better on the left, Salah is deadlier when given space to create a wide steam header, Firmino often drops deep to tie the game and Jota’s lack of size makes him useful at No.10 or in a large role.
In fact, compared to Salah and Mane last season, in data shared by Red Zone on TwitterNunez came out on top in goals, goals per game, minutes per goal, conversion rate and shot accuracy.
And so Nunez would provide that presence to build from, should a 4-4-2 get hold of Klopp.
It’s Nunez’s appetite to drift left that could see Klopp adopt a 4-2-3-1, with Diaz on the left, Salah on the right and Harvey Elliott’s or the summer signing Fabio Carvalho at No.10 .
Nunez is so versatile, having been deployed in the 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 holdup abilities
Firmino could also fill that role, as could Jota, but the team’s focal point would start and end with Nunez in a renewed line-up to meet City’s challenge.
A fluid front three, with Diaz able to move through the middle and Nunez allowed to drift to the left would be a perilous task to control and 48 goals in 85 games for Benfica proves what a slippery client he is.
“Klopp is still the best manager I’ve worked with, even though I haven’t played much,” Christian Benteke told Belgian outlet HLN after his departure. For a shunned player, that says a lot about Klopp’s quality for Nunez, as much as Nunez does for Liverpool.
Orthodox No.9s are rare 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…