After a challenging start to his Liverpool career, the Uruguayan is finally starting to show his true potential

The first part of the season was not an easy one for Darwin Núñez. First the comparison with Haaland – they simultaneously joined the Premier League as starting forwards for two of the best teams in the world – then the red card for headbutting an opponent that earned him a two-match ban, then a few chances missed that caused many people to turn up their nose. When a €100-million player misses a chance, people tend to note it more and Núñez himself seemed discouraged by the many critics. After the defeat against Leeds, Klopp felt urged to defend him.

“Trust me,” he said. “Nobody knows how good Darwin could get. If you could see him in training, you would be amazed.“

Núñez is still finding his path in the Premier League: so far, he has started slightly more than half the games he has been available for, and his minutes are fewer than the other starters. This is partly because of ‘Bobby’ Firmino’s performances but also his need to learn how to move in a peculiar system such as Klopp’s. His numbers, though, are more than ok. So far, Núñez has scored nine goals across all competitions, one every 104 minutes. It’s first – or among the best – in all the metrics that involve shots and touches in the opponent’s box.

Klopp is also learning how to get the most out of his striker. Núñez is one of the strongest players in the Premier League from a physical standpoint, and Liverpool can take advantage of his strength both in the box and to create spaces and chances for his teammates. The first spark of this scenario appeared against Napoli in the UEFA Champions League. Subbed in for the last 20 minutes, Núñez had revived Liverpool with his attacks from the left flank.

In its simplicity, this play says a lot: Salah receives centrally from Alisson and passes on the left for Núñez. The Uruguayan is faced by Kim and Di Lorenzo.

Núñez stops. But when he realizes that he doesn’t have enough space to pass the ball to his teammate, he attacks Min-Jae – one of the best defenders in Serie A this season, by taking advantage of his speed (this season, Núñez broke the record as the quickest player in the Premier League). Then, he tries to reach Salah with a grounded cross but the Egyptian is anticipated by a great tackle from Ostigard.

Against Tottenham, Klopp played Núñez as the left forward, with Firmino taking the central spot. Klopp asked him to lie deep during the defensive phase and to play central when attacking, playing in the space between Emerson Royal and Dier.

Here, with his cut from the flank to the center, Núñez does two things. First, he pushes Tottenham's defense back, allowing Firmino to receive the ball with his back to the goal and get the team forward.

Second, he frees the flank for Robertson, which is quickly served by Firmino. At that point, the Scottish full-back can freely receive the ball and prepare the cross – that he performs well – while his teammates attack the penalty box in a 4v4 situation.

The cross gets to Núñez who’s able to control with his back back to the goal and has the composure (that lacked in other circumstances) to serve Salah, alone in the heart of the box, who scores.

Against Southampton, on the other hand, Firmino played as Trequartista, while Núñez and Salah acted together in the attack. Klopp gave Núñez great freedom, receiving what was likely the Uruguayan’s best performance of the season (two goals, at least two possible assists) in return. Here, for example, he opens wide, while Firmino is central. After waiting a few moments, he serves Elliot’s central run.

While the midfielder can push the counterattack, Núñez starts running at an incredible speed, leaving teammates and opponents behind. He chooses not to stay wide but to attack centrally, regardless of Salah and Firmino’s presence.

Overloading the center proves to be a good idea: Núñez receives at the end of his incredible run (his athletic skills are remarkable) and serves a perfect backheel pass to Firmino. The Brazilian will then miss an easy opportunity.

Even with some early struggles, Liverpool’s striker is eventually sizing up the Premier League, with its intensity and speed. At the same time, he is beginning to better understand Klopp’s tactical requests and how to play with his new teammates. After this game, Núñez left to play in the most important tournament in football with Uruguay. Once back, Klopp will surely find a player ready to prove to be one of the best in the world.

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