Darwin Nunez’s debut season with Liverpool didn’t quite go to plan, but during that first year in Merseyside he earned his crown of the most hilariously chaotic footballer in the world.
Having signed for a considerable fee, Nunez was talked up as the Reds’ answer to Erling Haaland. But after a series of high-profile misses and matches where he stuck out like a sore thumb, he ended up often watching on from the bench as Liverpool endured their worst campaign of the Jurgen Klopp era.
But there was just enough from that inauspicious start to suggest he might come good. He was anything but anonymous. For better or worse, he always made you aware he was on the pitch.
Yes, he fluffed chances – often in spectacular fashion – but he found himself in good positions. And he’d shown at Benfica, with 26 goals in 28 league appearances in his final season, that he’s not an inherently bad finisher. Find his shooting boots again and there’d be no stopping him.
It looked like everything might have clicked into place when he came off the bench to score twice with two absolutely textbook striker’s goals as ten-man Liverpool came from behind to beat Liverpool 2-1 back in August.
“I had a chat with Bielsa over Zoom. Bielsa showed me some of my games things and corrected some things that seem positive to improve,” Nunez explained.
“He tells me to run behind the second centre-back so they lose my position. It was a very good talk. He seemed like a good guy to me and a serious guy. I hope to meet him next week and do my best for the team.”
The 24-year-old has since notched three assists and two assists in four appearances Bielsa’s Uruguay, while he scored one and set up another in their first victory over Brazil since 2001. Everything is starting to look up for Nunez.
But it wouldn’t be fair to say he’s quite caught fire for Liverpool just yet. He averages a very respectable average of a goal or an assist every 62 minutes in all competitions, but there remains a sense that he’s still fighting for his place as an undisputed starter as Klopp continues to rotate his bounty of attackers.
And one moment in Liverpool’s 5-1 thrashing of Toulouse showed that pure chaos will always be an element of Nunez’s game.
WHAT HAVE WE JUST WITNESSED?! 😅
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He’d already got on the scoresheet and looked the picture of a confident striker when he was played through, effortlessly beating his man and then rounding the goalkeeper to give himself an open goal to slot home into. He couldn’t have done the hard work any more convincingly.
Then came the finish. Somehow onto the post. He’d fallen to his knees with his head in his hands as the Kop’s attention swiftly turned to the rebound – the ball fell into the path of Ryan Gravenberch, who finished the job.
The sight of Nunez looking inconsolable on the turf as his team-mate was there to score is undoubtedly one of the funniest images of the 2023-24 season. Especially as he’d have given Gravenberch an option to pass to had he kept his head in the game.
— Real Hater (@22Hamza_) October 26, 2023
“He played incredible,” Klopp told reporters in his post-match press conference. “Honestly, in this moment I couldn’t care less that he hit the post because everything before was super convincing.
“It was absolutely clear. How he took the defender away, how he passed the goalie. It was a perfect situation.
“He played really good. The goal he scored, the situations he was involved in, dropping into midfield, staying on the ball, all these things. There were a lot of good things and he is in a good moment.
“For us that is obviously important. I’m really pleased for him with the performance. Yes, it is a bit of slapstick that the ball doesn’t go in. Ryan finishes it off then it’s cool.
“But I said before the game, he is happy man in the moment and you can see that every day. We have to make sure it stays like that.”
That might’ve been a moment of pure, unfiltered Nunez straight out of 2022-23, but his manager sounds happy enough. And that’s all he needs.