Beyond the bluster, Darwin Nunez has the makings of a Premier League phenomenon

By Sports Desk November 05, 2022

Such is the instantaneous nature of social media that one miss, one innocuous incident can see a player written off as a "fraud" or "finished".

It's up to every one of us how much importance we tie to those individual comments. Maybe they're jokes, maybe they're serious. But when you see thousands of likes or retweets on them, you get a picture of how widespread these quick judgements are, and in that sense it doesn't really matter if they were in jest or not.

This isn't to say we didn't use to be like this, the difference is now many of us have at our fingertips an outlet that reaches thousands of people within seconds.

Darwin Nunez came in for such treatment in pre-season. During a meaningless friendly against Manchester United, the Uruguayan missed a big chance and quickly became the target of ridicule on social media.

Granted, he had recently been signed for a lot of money, but the hysteria – given the game had nothing riding on it – was remarkable. For what it's worth, he scored four in one match nine days later.

Since then, a lot of column inches have been dedicated to Nunez, which is a bit fairer now the season's in full flow.

One thing many agree about is how the striker appears to be one of the most chaotic footballers in existence, but this shouldn't cloud what he's doing well. He's raw, but if you scrape away the surface, the signs for Nunez and Liverpool are very promising.

Untapped potential

Jurgen Klopp hit the nail on the head last week when talking about Nunez's potential. In his eyes, the 23-year-old potentially has an "incredible" ceiling, but he acknowledged there was still so much work for the striker to put in that it was unclear how good he'll eventually become.

"Nobody knows, he doesn't know. Nobody knows, there is a lot [of potential] and it is so exciting, but he has to stay fit, he has to be available all the time," Klopp said. "That's all important in the life of a professional football player. We have to work on all different areas. Then, the potential is incredible. It's not only speed, the attitude is really good, he is a real worker.

"Again, I tell you – and I know there are some people out there who think, 'Technically, not sure, first touch...' – it is incredible. That he doesn't bring it on the pitch all the time, the first touch might be here or there sometimes, is nothing to do with technique, it is just a bit too late, awareness, orientation and all these kind of things, but it is all possible to develop and to learn. That's where we are at, it's really exciting, but where it can go, I have no idea."

There was always going to be scrutiny for Nunez because of the transfer fee, but would there have been as much were it not for Erling Haaland's ridiculous start? Probably not, as they were brought in around the same time and both considered by many as the so-called final pieces of the puzzle for their respective teams.

As the past few months have shown, Haaland is a phenomenon, that's not up for debate. But Nunez taking a little more time to truly settle doesn't make him any less promising than he was deemed at Benfica.

In fact, you could argue his output has exceeded expectations at this point.

Darwin's evolution

"His numbers are incredible, to be absolutely honest," Klopp also said of Nunez last week. "If you speak about xGs [expected goals], I am pretty sure his xGs are pretty high as well. He had a few chances which he missed, but he scored as well. He is involved in a lot of finishing moments, a lot of things."

Klopp is correct here – the data firmly backs him up. While Nunez's tally of three Premier League goals doesn't sound much, we shouldn't forget he's already served a three-match ban for getting sent off against Crystal Palace. His record of 0.6 goals every 90 minutes is bettered by only seven players.

With that in mind, Nunez's 432 Premier League minutes is fairly low, but he's managed to pack a lot of action into that limited period – hence the "chaotic" appraisal earlier.

He ranks inside the top 10 for goal involvements per 90 minutes (0.8) and minutes per goal (144), but it's in the shooting metrics where Nunez's productivity really shines through.

No one is registering more attempts on a per-90-minute basis than Nunez (6.7), while only Haaland (2.6) is getting more shots on target than the Uruguay forward (2.5) each game.

But perhaps crucially, and back to Klopp's point, his non-penalty xG (per 90) is 0.76, only fractionally behind Haaland's league-best 0.81.

Of course, the issue here is Nunez isn't finishing as many chances as the average player would be expected to given the quality of the openings, while Haaland has been exceptionally ruthless with his opportunities.

But it would be more concerning if he wasn't getting chances at all.

Nunez's struggles could be explained by any number of factors such as confidence, adaptation, the roles he's being asked to play, maybe even a desperate need to impress, and that might explain some of his more erratic decision-making.

But the expectation is that with time and composure Nunez's figures will eventually level up with his xG. On the evidence of his attributes until now, when they do, Liverpool will have an exceptional striker on their hands.

Related items

  • Paul Pogba ‘sad, shocked and heartbroken’ after being banned for doping Paul Pogba ‘sad, shocked and heartbroken’ after being banned for doping

    Juventus and France midfielder Paul Pogba said he was “sad, shocked and heartbroken” after being banned from football for a doping offence.

    The former Manchester United player was on Thursday handed a four-year ban, according to reports in Italy.

    The 30-year-old was provisionally suspended by Italy’s national anti-doping tribunal in September after testing positive for testosterone following Juve’s Serie A match with Udinese on August 20, where he was an unused substitute.

    And, after the failed test was confirmed by Italian anti-doping body Nado in a second sample in October, the four-year suspension requested by the prosecutor’s office has now reportedly been granted.

    Pogba has responded by issuing a statement on social media saying he has “never knowingly or deliberately taken any supplements that violate anti-doping regulations”.

    He also said he will be lodging an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the ban.

    He said on Instagram: “I have today been informed of the Tribunale Nazionale Antidoping’s decision and believe that the verdict is incorrect.

    “I am sad, shocked and heartbroken that everything I have built in my professional playing career has been taken away from me.

    “When I am free of legal restrictions the full story will become clear, but I have never knowingly or deliberately taken any supplements that violate anti-doping regulations.

    View this post on Instagram

    A post shared by Paul Labile Pogba (@paulpogba)

    “As a professional athlete I would never do anything to enhance my performance by using banned substances and have never disrespected or cheated fellow athletes and supporters of any of the teams I have played for, or against.

    “As a consequence of the decision announced today I will appeal this before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.”

    Pogba became the world’s most expensive footballer when he moved to Manchester United from Juve for £89million in 2016, before rejoining the Italian giants on a free transfer in the summer of 2022.

    The 2018 World Cup-winner has featured only sparingly since returning to Turin after a number of injury setbacks, making six Serie A appearances last season and two this term.

  • 'I feel 40' – Birthday boy Doncic dispatches Raptors 'I feel 40' – Birthday boy Doncic dispatches Raptors

    Luka Doncic quipped he feels like he is 40 years old after he celebrated his 25th birthday in style.

    Doncic became the first player in NBA history to finish with a triple-double on their birthday as he led the Dallas Mavericks to a 136-125 win over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.

    He finished with 30 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds for his 11th triple-double of the season.

    Doncic has now had 39 30-point triple-doubles, which sees him surpass LeBron James in the all-time list for that feat.

    When asked if he considered his 25th birthday as a milestone, Doncic joked: "I feel like [I'm] 40, so no."

    Doncic was 11 for 23 from the field and missed 7 of 8 from 3-point range in his 67th career triple-double.

    "Just a normal game, triple-double," Jason Kidd said.

    "He was really good. I guess 25 means he's still going to be really good as he gets older here."

    Kyrie Irving scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter and P.J. Washington Jr. added 23 points for Dallas, as they bounced back from back-to-back defeats.

    "Kyrie and Luka, they had such a poise in important moments to make the right plays," said Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic after his team saw a three-game winning streak snapped.

    Doncic added: "We just played aggressive on defense, got out on transition, that's it. 

    "My team knows when I'm engaged. Everybody helps everyone to be engaged.

    "I'm having so much fun. Back-to-back is always tough, a great win today, I've got to get some rest now."

  • Like father, like son – Liverpool’s youngsters now making a name for themselves Like father, like son – Liverpool’s youngsters now making a name for themselves

    Liverpool’s youngsters have had a significant week in the spotlight, helping beat Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday before setting up an FA Cup quarter-final trip to Manchester United after victory over Southampton.

    Three of them – Bobby Clark, Jayden Danns and Lewis Koumas – are following in their former professional footballer fathers’ footsteps.

    Here, the PA news agency looks at the fresh faces who have taken their opportunity to shine at Anfield.

    Bobby Clark

    Given a handful of opportunities in recent weeks, the 19-year-old is an attacking midfielder. The son of former Newcastle midfielder Lee Clark, he joined the club from the Magpies in 2021 and signed a long-term contract last December.

    Jayden Danns

    An 18-year-old forward, son of the much-travelled former Colchester, Crystal Palace and Bolton midfielder Neil Danns, only made his first-team debut as an 89th-minute substitute in the 4-1 win over Luton last Wednesday. A week later he came off the bench to score twice against Southampton.

    Lewis Koumas

    Koumas, the son of former Wales international Jason Koumas, joined the club as a 10-year-old from one of his dad’s former clubs Tranmere and only signed his first professional contract last month. He enjoyed a dream debut as, picked in the starting line-up, he scored the opening goal against Southampton.

    Conor Bradley

    A relatively familiar name among the group having been given an opportunity in the second half of the campaign in the absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold. The Northern Irish right-back, 20, who spent last season on loan at Bolton, has shown promise for his attacking and defensive qualities.

    James McConnell

    The 19-year-old midfielder has featured a handful of times off the bench after making his debut against Toulouse in the Europa League in October. Joined Liverpool as an Under-15s player after catching the eye at Sunderland.

    Jarell Quansah

    Warrington-born defender who has established himself in the first-team squad this season. The 21-year-old, who had a loan spell with Bristol Rovers last term, is a ball-playing centre-half who has come through the ranks at Liverpool after joining them at the age of five.

    Trey Nyoni

    Nyoni spent 10 years at Leicester’s academy before joining Liverpool in September. The England Under-16 international’s rapid rise saw him come off the bench against Southampton to become the club’s youngest player to feature in the FA Cup at 16 years and 243 days and third-youngest in Liverpool’s history.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.