Darwin Nunez vs Liverpool: Analysis of the two matches that impressed Klopp

Darwin Nunez vs Liverpool: Analysis of the two matches that impressed Klopp

Darwin Nunez could become the most expensive deal in Liverpool’s history and his seven-year journey there was in the making.

It was around 2015 when the South American-based Liverpool explorer spotted the young Uruguayan striker playing for Peñarol’s Under-19 team.

Since then, Liverpool have followed Nunez’s progress as he went from making his debut in place of former Liverpool player Maxi Rodriguez with Peñarol in November 2017 to his move to Almeria, in Spain’s second tier, in 2019.

His 16 goals in 32 matches were part of the reason why Benfica broke their club record fee to sign him for €24 million in September 2020. In the same way that Liverpool quietly watched Luis Diaz at Porto, they were watching Nunez at Benfica.

However, despite all that hard work, perhaps the most important game Nunez had under Liverpool’s eyes were the two matches against the club in last season’s Champions League quarter-finals.

This was a rare opportunity for Jurgen Klopp to see Nunez up close and personal. After the return leg at Anfield ended with a score of 3-3, Klopp was astonished by what he saw.

“He’s a good looking boy,” the coach said after Liverpool booked their place in the semi-finals with a 6-4 aggregate win. “He is really a good boy. He played in front of me fighting against Ibrahima Konate. He was calm until the end. He is good, really good. If he stays healthy, he has a big career ahead.”

Nunez made the most of what now appears to be a 180-minute test over seven years of probation at Liverpool. He scored two goals through the legs and could have scored at least three more at Anfield alone had it not been for two offside calls and Alisson saved him.

A few months later and after undergoing a medical, the striker is on the verge of being announced as a Liverpool player. Here, we break down exactly what Nunez did in those matches to impress Klopp and Liverpool, what areas he still needs to work on, and what fans can expect from him this season.

During the first leg in Portugal, Nunez showed the qualities that Liverpool, Manchester United and others admired from afar.

One of his most notable features is his ability to play centrally in his favorite No. 9 position as well as having him blast off both wings of the field.

Klopp is a huge fan of versatility and appreciates attacking players who can play more than one role in a team. Nunez fits the law when it comes to versatility and showed that in the first minutes of the first leg in Lisbon on April 5.

Having started as a Benfica striker, Nunez immediately started working on the right as he picked up the ball on the center line and carried it forward.

When Andrew Robertson jumped for an intervention, Nunez quietly raised the ball behind him. That level of composure and confidence should serve him well in the Premier League.

Fabinho, as he often does, made a significant recovery. But instead of trying to dribble the defensive midfielder, Nunez decided to play an early cross as three of his Benfica teammates approached Liverpool’s penalty area.

Not only was the cross played too early, it was hit too far in front of his teammates.

A similar pass was made out of play later in the first half as Nunez placed another cross prematurely.

Liverpool’s positioning ensured that Nunez had little choice but to use his speed and precise control to run down the right wing. Once Robertson caught him, Nunez hit the ball on the spot rather than choosing to dribble him or stop play.

Crossing his legs, he attempted eight dribbles and completed five of them. But either way, he seemed to dribble a cross rather than look at Fabinho and then Robertson.

Nunez’s touch maps from both games showed him playing central but also falling into pockets in the left half and in wider areas near the touchline – as you can see below in the first leg that Benfica lost to Liverpool. This makes it difficult to observe – and it is worth noting that it is a far cry from the traditional over-the-shoulder number 9.

Although he saw quite a bit of the ball in the second leg, you can see that he also feels comfortable falling deep to press or collect, although his tangled play could improve along with some other areas of his game.

One such area is his ability to win air duels. In his inaugural quarter-final match at Estadio da Luz, he won only four out of 10 air duels and struggled largely to beat Konate and Virgil van Dijk in the air.

This would be something Liverpool know they can help improve to put his height (6 feet 2 inches) better.

That’s not to say Nunez hasn’t used his sporting framework to give Liverpool’s defenders something to think about. In one of the gameplay segments, he picked up a pass and was able to block Konate before escaping from the left channel.

Kunette kicked the ball away and the ball went away but Nunez put it back under control.

The French defender then received another bite on the ball but Nunez cleared him well.

Then Nunez emptied the ball and shot in the Liverpool half. If the ball goes forward here, it can set up a two-on-one situation. But instead of moving forward, Benfica went sideways and Thiago intercepted the ball.

After starting the match by attacking on the right flank, it soon became apparent that Nunez had mixed it up and started focusing on the left side. The way he looked from side to side was unexpected and gave Liverpool’s defense a lot to think about.

After an Adil Taarabt pass issued by Nunez, Nunez appeared to have stolen the rally on Konate.

However, the Liverpool defender regained control of his feet and Van Dijk hit a cross to pick up Konate’s interference, frustrating Nunez.

In the second half, it was a mistake by Konat that gave Nunez the opportunity to score.

After drifting to the left, Rafa Silva played the ball inside the penalty area.

Konat tried to clear but the ball went from under him to Nunez’s path.

The attacker made no mistake after touching one to his left before hitting it alongside Alisson on his right.

There was even more impressive action from Nunez in the second half as he overcame Liverpool’s high streak to pass the goal.

Van Dijk recovered strongly but used his arm to slow down Nunez’s speed. As soon as Nunez felt the contact on his chest from Van Dyck’s arm, he came down demanding a penalty kick. Nothing was presented and it immediately felt like a missed opportunity for Nunez given how he got away with Van Dijk and was in a good position to shoot.

After winning 3-1 away in Portugal, Liverpool advanced by two goals in the second leg at Anfield. This enabled Klopp to make seven changes and rest key players such as Van Dijk.

Just as in the first meeting, Nunez made another quick start against Joe Gomez at right back, Joel Matip and Konate at the heart of defense and Kostas Tsimikas at left back.

This time, he sent in an early cross that almost caught Liverpool but Tsimikas managed to clear it before the Benfica striker’s Everton had a chance to score.

Nunez’s boisterous start continued as he sprinted again from the left towards Cope.

Matip raced with him but couldn’t stop Nunez who seems confident to go through with him.

While Nunez was looking to create Goncalo Ramos, he wasn’t able to get enough speed on the pass and Jordan Henderson was there to get it back into Alisson’s arms.

Nunez looked inspired playing at Anfield and would have scored in the first half to show it that the offside flag was not raised.

It was Nunez’s no-holds-barred finish to Alisson’s distance that impressed Klopp and others.

Alisson is very passionate when it comes to one-on-one situations but Nunez showed it momentarily by passing the ball to him easily.

If Nunez started quickly in the first half, he finished the match with the same energetic rush.

For his goal in the 82nd minute, Nunez again cleverly advanced to the left of the center.

He followed the ball inside and played in front of Joao Mario and on his way, he finished off the ball superbly around a rushed Allison.

Hardly any player brought as much trouble to Alisson’s door in Liverpool’s 63-game season as Nunez did in this one. His ability to put the finishing touches here and for Benfica in general will enhance what Liverpool already know.

Nunez was a man in good shape by the end of the match and had no luck not adding two more goals to his tally.

It was just over a minute after his goal when he made a run to the left and Gomez failed to score.

When the ball was crossed, Nunez leaned back and shot towards goal. He was stealing in the back of the net before Alison flew across to twist it around his center.

It was this belated flurry of opportunity that best highlighted Nunez’s burgeoning talent. There is a lot to iron out and improve, but it was clear from these two legs what the level of the player Nunez is.

And perhaps most importantly, the levels he can reach.

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