DARWIN NUNEZ: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LIVERPOOL TARGET
Liverpool are in talks with Benfica to sign striker Darwin Nunez. Reports suggest the Reds have to break their transfer record to seal the deal, with the Portuguese side demanding €80million + €20million in add-ons. Who is Darwin Nunez though? Here’s all you need to know.
Most Liverpool fans are aware of the Uruguayan’s prowess seeing as he netted against Jürgen Klopp’s side home and away in the Champions League this season. Their knowledge of the player is limited to those two outings though, so we’ve delved deep into Nunez’s short career.
Born on the 24th of June 1999 in Artigas, Uruguay, Darwin Gabriel Nunez Ribeiro made his first real steps into professional football at Montevideo based club Penarol. He joined the youth setup in 2013/14 as a 14 year old.
He rose through the ranks and got promoted to the senior team in 2017. He made his first team debut in November of that year when he came on as a substitute for Liverpool old boy Maxi Rodríguez. A spate of knee injuries kept him out for most of that season however.
He returned the following season ready to build on his debut. In 2018, he made 13 appearances, scoring once and providing an assist. His first professional goal set Penarol on their way to a 2-0 victory in a season which saw them defend their league title.
The following season, Darwin netted his first professional hat trick as the then 20 year old put European scouts on notice. He was also part of the Uruguay under-20 squad which finished third in the 2019 South American U-20 Championship.
He only made 8 appearances for Penarol that season before he departed for the 2019 FIFA under-20 World Cup. He netted twice in the group stages for Uruguay before they were knocked out in the Round of 16. Barca’s Ronald Araujo was also part of the squad.
That tournament is famous for launching the career of Erling Haaland who stole headlines by netting 9 goals against a hapless Honduras side. Nunez’s exploits at the tournament saw Spanish side Almeria pounce for his signature in the summer in a deal rising to €5million.
It was a big move for the youngster as he left for Europe with only a handful of professional appearances under his belt, and a lot of expectation on his shoulders. Almeria were in La Liga 2 seeking promotion to the top flight.
Nunez was slowly integrated into the side as he adapted to life in Spain. He made his debut in October of the the 2019/20 season as a halftime substitute. He scored on his full debut for Almeria in a 3-2 home win as he tucked away a penalty.
He didn’t look back, going on to finish the season as the club’s topscorer with 16 goals and 2 assists in 30 league appearances. Almeria placed 4th and qualified for the Playoffs. Unfortunately, they succumbed to a 3-1 semi final defeat to Girona to miss out on promotion.
Nunez truly made his mark that season though, and his performances for Almeria led to his international debut for Uruguay in a 1–1 draw against Peru. In typical fashion, the forward scored just five minutes after coming on.
European teams were put on notice and Portuguese giants Benfica made their move when they paid a club record €25 million for the youngster. This was also Almeria’s and the Segunda División’s record transfer, underlining the sheer potential Nunez possessed.
After just a year in Spain’s second division, Darwin Nunez was on his way to the Portuguese top flight and Champions/Europa League football. This was a significant step up, and he had the pressure of the price tag on his young shoulders.
A worldwide pandemic didn’t make any settling in period easy. Nunez adapted as best as he could in his first season with Benfica. He finished the season as the second top assister in the league with 10 assists.
It was in the Europa League that he truly found his shooting boots though, netting 5 goals in just 7 appearances. He ended the 2020/21 season with 13 goals and 12 assists in 43 appearances across all competitions. Not bad for a 21 year old.
A decent return all things considered. Nunez was named in Uruguay’s squad for the 2021 Copa America but a knee injury saw him miss out on the tournament. He worked hard over that summer and it paid off big time.
The 2021/22 season was a smash success. He returned to full fitness and set about cutting opposition defences to shreds. He scored back to back braces in September to see him named the Primera Liga Player of the month.
He scored another brace that month, this time against Barcelona in a 3-0 success. What better way to net your first goals in the competition than to do so in a Man of the Match performance against Barca. He would go on to notch back to back league hat tricks the following month.
Darwin didn’t slow down, scoring against German giants Bayern Munich in a defeat at the Allianz Arena. As the season progressed, he got better and better. He scored the only goal away at Ajax to knock out the Dutch giants in the Round of 16.
He notched his third hat trick of the season in April before scoring home and away against the Reds in the last eight of the Champions League. He was a real handful in both legs as he pulled off to the left and sought to break in behind every time.
His strike at Anfield made him Benfica’s all-time top scorer in a single Champions League campaign, surpassing Nuno Gomes’ record of five goals set in the 1998/99 season. The 22 year old ended the season as the topscorer in the Primera Liga with 26 goals in 28 matches.
34 goals and 4 assists in 41 appearances across all competitions is a serious return, and no wonder he’s now one of the hottest prospects on the market. He’s honed his skills as a forward. He’s dovetailed well with Yaremchuk this season.
He’s also played on the left at times, cutting in on his stronger right foot. He still remains a striker at heart. He’s quick, he’s powerful, he’s got a big frame (he stands at 6’2 tall), and he’s a lethal finisher. He reminds most observers of a young Edinson Cavani.
He has shown in the last three years that he’s making a beeline straight to the top. It would be interesting to see where and how exactly Jürgen Klopp utilises him if this move goes through. Klopp typically prefers a false nine in his 4-3-3 setup.
Are we about to see the manager switch to 4-2-3-1 more permanently? After all, that was his favoured system at Dortmund where he developed the likes of Robert Lewandoski and later Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang as leading strikers.
It will be interesting to watch how Darwin Nunez develops under Jürgen Klopp. It is not cut and dry yet however, as Manchester United attempt to hijack the deal after new manager Erik Ten Haag identified the youngster as a key target.
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