Darwin Núñez Only Represents Liverpool’s Frustrations

In the last five months, two strikers have played for Liverpool. One of them is a Hanna-Barbera character. His boots are two sizes too big. His pounding movements in and around the penalty area – a length of grass that seems to alternately turn to ice or quicksand beneath his feet – are soundtracked by American Fotoplayer’s circus music. He carries a a passing resemblance For Andy Carroll. He has a bad habit of galloping over everyone and then being surprised by how much space he’s found, and generally plays his position as if you’re getting partial credit for hitting the posts behind the net.

One of the two strikers took the goal literally when he scored in Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Wolves in the FA Cup last weekend. He now has 10 goals in all competitions this season, which would make him the team’s second-highest goalscorer. He does almost everything he’s supposed to do. He keeps running and you can almost never come away saying he had no impact on the match. He is the kind of enterprising, do-it-all player that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp seems to like. He often slides into the last defender’s blind corner, making himself a nuisance to the back line, and does quite well when he gets decent service. When play doesn’t build from the back as well or as quickly as Liverpool would like, he drops in and drives the ball forward himself.

The curiosity here is that these strikers are both wearing the no. 27 shirts, and are the same 23-year-old man. Darwin Núñez arrived from Benfica for £85m in the summer after a breakout season in which he more than quadrupled his previous season’s Primeira Liga goals (from six to 26) and helped the Portuguese side push Liverpool to the brink of relegation themselves. A 10-goal Champions League thriller. This summer it looked as if Núñez would join England’s second-best perennial team, a team that had just come within a hair’s breadth of the Quadruple – something no English team has yet done. But during this year’s campaign, Liverpool have started to look like a team looking to stay relevant. They are 16 points clear of Premier League leaders Arsenal, despite regular rivals Manchester City, and have only limped into an FA Cup third-round replay against the second-to-last team.

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In a display of strength and presence following last week’s 3-1 Premier League loss to Brenford, Klopp fielded a strong squad to try and retain at least one of Liverpool’s trophies from last season. New Wolves manager Julen Lopetegui even complained beforehand that his team would have two days less time to prepare for the game – a classic tactic to lower expectations when you face a team you clearly expect to lose. But then Wolves didn’t lose. In the 26th minute, Liverpool suddenly looked like they would connection lost; Wolves’ first goal through Goncalo Guedes was gifted to him by a confused Alisson, who had flicked the ball straight into the striker’s path. This was due to the normally safe Thiago Alacantra attempting lazy steps on the edge of his own box.

But back to Núñez, who just minutes earlier had attempted a blistering overhead kick from a deflected ball off the foot of a Wolves defender who had fed on something from Mohamed Salah’s pass or shot. An opportunity from absolutely nothing. The neutral viewer is tempted to suggest that if this had been released – the feline athleticism that Núñez is capable of but has yet to capitalize on enough at Liverpool could have been the start something special for Uruguay. Some kind of unstoppable snowball momentum that eventually leads to “world class” and “club legend” status. Until then, according to the denizens of the internet, he is a flop.

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It’s hardly his fault that he arrived in the Premier League at the same time as Erling Haaland, who has scored 21 league goals for Liverpool’s north-west rivals this season. It’s hard to ignore that Núñez, on the other hand, leads the league by some distance in “missed big spots” per 90 minutes. The Liverpudlian defense for this statistic is that in order to miss big opportunities, you have to get to dangerous places first, which is the kind of creative accounting that follows the Uruguayan, who is again 23. The sense of imperfection about Núñez easily turns into a promise of potential when you consider how close he is to the ideal big man you need a headline push ripped straight from a soda commercial. He’s broad-shouldered, a shade under 6-foot-2, religiously committed to the press and has all the necessary tattoos. He causes the most havoc in the channel, but is capable of both winning headers and bringing the more inventive elements of Liverpool’s midfield into play.

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This kind of undermining of Núñez’s abilities is likely to continue until he scores five goals against Real Madrid. Klopp claims he sees “a lot of similarities” between the Uruguayan and Robert Lewandowski, who he managed at Dortmund when Lewandowski achieved the identical feat. Of course, the comparison was meant to illustrate just how far Núñez has to go: “We had shooting sessions where he didn’t hit one.”

Liverpool have bigger reasons to worry, namely the defence: in a once well organized and impregnable situation, they have already conceded almost as many goals in the Premier League as they did all of last season, with centre-back Virgil Van Dijk on the sidelines. significant hamstring injury. How can Liverpool throw everything else forward and put teams to the sword without the solidity at the back?

This makes moments of perfect synergy, such as Núñez’s FA Cup goal in the 45th minute, all the more frustrating. After a botched clearance, Trent Alexander-Arnold burst into space down the right flank. Núñez took off and raised his arms to pass all the way to the center circle and broke beyond the Wolves defenders. Alexander-Arnold swooped in perfectly with an early cross, beat every defender and caught the keeper in no-man’s land. Without breaking stride, Núñez accidentally flicked a cross from his shins into the far corner.

In the second half, he was anonymous.


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