Erling Haaland’s arrival at Manchester City has been followed by Liverpool’s capture of their own big-money forward.
It sees Darwin Núñez arrive from Benfica in a deal set to be worth an initial £64m, potentially rising to £85m with add-on fees.
The 22-year-old striker was linked to various Premier League teams but Jurgen Klopp’s side quickly wrapped up the transfer to avoid a bidding war with the likes of Manchester United and Newcastle United.
“Darwin is a wonderful player; already really good but so much potential to get even better. That’s why it’s so exciting, to be honest. He has all the pieces we look for. He can set a tempo, he brings energy, he can threaten space from central and wide areas. He is aggressive and dynamic with his movement.
“He plays without fear, he’s powerful. I know he will excite our supporters.” – Jurgen Klopp
He comes with a big fee and high expectations but where does the Uruguay international fit in at Liverpool and what impact will he have in Fantasy Premier League (FPL)?
We’ll attempt to answer those questions below.
His explosive season for Benfica has continued a fast escalation. It didn’t take many Peñarol appearances until Almeria snapped him up for the Spanish Second Division. One fruitful year later and he was off to the Portuguese capital for around £20m, with Almeria now set to benefit further by receiving 20% of Benfica’s profit.
Five assists arrived in his first four matches, netting on the fifth attempt against Belenenses. Yet his first season was fairly unspectacular, with the first nine appearances after a hamstring injury all cameos off the bench.
The 2021/22 campaign was very different. A spectacular 26 goals from 28 league matches included a trio of hat-tricks and five braces. Knee surgery over the preceding summer meant Núñez missed the first two outings but he quickly made up for lost time.
He was likely already on Klopp’s radar before their sides met in the Champions League quarter-finals, such is the forward-thinking Liverpool transfer team that brought in fellow Liga Portugal star Luis Diaz.
However, he made sure he remained in Klopp’s thoughts after scoring in both legs against Liverpool. The first saw him race into the box to receive a cross from the right wing, whereas the second came from a long ball that his teammate couldn’t control so Núñez stepped in to coolly finish.
Additional goals came against Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Ajax to ensure his first Champions League experience brought an impressive six from ten matches.
PLAYING STYLE/UNDERLYING STATS
“He has a similar style to [Edinson] Cavani but it seems to me that Darwin is faster and more powerful. He has the power that [Luis] Suarez had to go for it all, to go to the clash and fight with the rival. He also has the part of Cavani, of being a much more athletic player, more physical, more intelligent. I think he is a combination of those two things.” – Former Peñarol manager Leonardo Ramos
At 6ft 2in tall, Núñez offers more of a physical presence than Liverpool’s other attackers. His five headed goals of last season are more than everyone in the Premier League, with Harry Kane, Diogo Jota and Danny Welbeck finishing on four.
|Name||Mins per goal||Mins per shot||Mins per shot in the box||Mins per shot on target||Mins per chance created|
A crude comparison of the underlying stats shows Nunez more than matching his new teammates for a number of the key metrics, although we do have to slap a hefty ‘Primeira Liga’ tax on those figures. Still, while the opposition calibre increases in the Premier League, so too does the quality of player around the young Uruguayan and the level of service he will receive.
One thing that really stands out from last season is his goal conversion: 30.8% of the shots he took in the Portuguese top flight ended up in the net. That’s a figure we don’t see often at all in the Premier League: indeed, in 2021/22, only two first-choice forwards bettered 20%, let alone 30%, with their shot-to-goal conversion rates.
Can Nunez get close to matching that figure in 2022/23? There has to be some scepticism, with the mandatory highlights reel featuring some iffy Iberian goalkeeping and his goal conversion rate in the previous campaign being a less impressive 10.3%.
With all this talk of goals, it’s easy to label Nunez as a centre-forward when he has also proven his effectiveness from out wide. According to WhoScored, he often cuts inside from the left and is a strong dribbler.
Still developing, Núñez’s weaknesses include holding onto the ball and general link-up play. He also wanders offside too often. Indeed, he strayed offside on 23 occasions throughout last season’s Liga Portugal – a rate of 0.8 per match that only Cristiano Ronaldo and Maxwel Cornet could outdo.
WHERE NUNEZ FITS IN AT LIVERPOOL
Above: League heatmaps for (left to right) Darwin Nunez, Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz, taken from SofaScore
Naturally, he’ll be seen as a Sadio Mane replacement should the Senegalese star depart for Bayern Munich, although his heatmap for last season seems to closely resemble Jota.
Like the Portugal international, he’s nominally a central striker but able to play on the left flank. Mane, as it happens, had made the reverse move in the closing stages of 2021/22, featuring increasingly as the spearhead of a three-man frontline after spending the bulk of his career at Anfield on the left wing.
Núñez possesses the versatility needed for Klopp’s fluid attack, so at times he could be an FPL forward playing as an inverted winger.
As Klopp evolves his team to overcome staleness and age, Liverpool now have the option to mix things up via Núñez’s aerial threat.
IS NUNEZ WORTH BUYING IN FPL?
The thought of adding these headers to the crosses of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson is spellbinding. No team totalled more deliveries than Liverpool’s 897, with 221 successful.
Beyond that, he joins a generally outstanding attack. For 2021/22, Mohamed Salah, Mane and Jota all ranked within the top five FPL options for shots inside the box, penalty area touches and expected goals.
What may force Fantasy managers to adopt a ‘wait and see’ policy is the words of Klopp himself. At least five attack-minded options will be competing for three places and the head coach may decide to ease the Uruguayan into action.
“It’s important we all recognise we are getting a ‘work in progress’ with Darwin. He recognises that himself, for sure. I love how much focus and humility he has. We have wonderful attacking options already and he becomes part of that now. So there is no pressure on him at all. He signs for a very long time and we intend to nurture his talent and see it grow.” – Jurgen Klopp
“His playing style – rampaging around central defenders like a bull and dragging them into wide channels – has always suggested broad shoulders, as has his resistance to difficulties. If there is a note of caution, it is that Núñez’s high-impact style could end up taking its toll on him in the Premier League.” – European expert Andy Brassell
It’s also worth noting that four of Nunez’s league strikes in 2021/22 came from the spot and it looks unlikely that he’ll be able to rely on penalties at Liverpool, with Salah typically taking charge from 12 yards whenever James Milner hasn’t been on the field.
Considering the less prolific Roberto Firmino has always started the season between £8.5m and £9.5m, Núñez will probably be towards the top-end of that price bracket. It may be best to watch him over the first month before deciding whether to pounce, although a strong pre-season will no doubt tempt suitors.
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