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EPL Transfer Spotlight: Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez

Is Darwin the perfect replacement for Sadio Mane?

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Liverpool Unveil New Signing Darwin Nunez - Premier League Photo by Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Out goes Sadio Mane, and in comes Darwin Nunez. Liverpool has continued a penchant for adding top attackers to the roster by luring young Uruguayan striker Darwin Nunez to the club for a fee that could reach a club-record £85 million. The transfer put paid to endless speculations linking the lanky striker to almost every top European club.


Background

Darwin Gabriel Nunez Ribeiro was born on the 24th of June 1999, making him 23 years old for only a few more days (Happy birthday Darwin!). He was born in Artigas, Uruguay to Silvia Ribeiro and Bibioano Nunez. Like many South American footballers, Nunez had a tough childhood, his family struggling to make ends meet. His dad earned meager wages in construction while his mum was a bottle hawker and seller.

Speaking about his upbringing, Darwin said:

“Yes, I went to bed severally with an empty stomach. But the one who went to bed more with an empty stomach was my mother. She ensured that I and my brother eat first. My mum will often go to bed without joining us to eat. Never will I forget where I came from.”

Darwin learned football from his older brother Junior on the streets of his hometown. After a number of years honing his skills on the street, Nunez felt it was time to take a step up by joining an academy. A trial at hometown club La Luz followed, and his talent ensured he was selected by the team’s coaches.

Darwin attributes a lot of his football prowess today to his first-ever late football coach at La luz. Although that coach has since passed away, his death doesn’t stop Darwin from honoring him whenever he scores.

“I dedicate a goal to heaven, to a friend who will always be in my heart. I was age 6 years when he taught me to play football. He gave my mom work and always kept an eye on my family. I point my hands to the sky and say ‘I will carry you forever in our heart’.”

After a few years at La Luz, Darwin joined San Miguel de Artigas. It was there that Darwin’s footballing fortunes took a dramatic turn in 2013, when Uruguayan football legend and scout, Jose Perdomo visited the academy’s playground. Darwin’s ability to skip past opponents and find the back of the net caught the scout’s attention, and Perdomo headed straight to Darwin’s house to seek his parents’ permission to take him to Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital.

Darwin joined Penarol, training with the team’s academy. Unfortunately an ACL injury kept him away from football for a year and a half before he finally made his first-team debut against Club Atletico River Plate. His goals for Penarol helped the team win trophies in his first season as a senior player. His performances (most especially a hattrick against Boston River) attracted interest from European clubs, with Spanish club UD Almeria winning the race for his signature in 2019.

Darwin stayed at Almeria for only a year but scored 16 goals in 30 games. By the end of his tenure at the club, Darwin’s name was already on the wishlist of numerous top European clubs. Benfica ultimately won the race for his signature with a club-record fee of €24 million on the 4th of September 2020. His early performances were hampered by the prolonged effects of a COVID-19 infection, but his second season would prove to be his breakout. Despite missing the beginning of the campaign due to knee surgery, he went on to score 26 goals in 28 league games, winning the Bola de Prata as the top scorer in the Premeira Liga.


How Will Darwin Nunez Fit In At Liverpool

Tall, aerially exceptional, fast, and with an excellent eye for goal, Darwin Nunez is the kind of striker most managers dream about. He enjoys playing on the edges of defenders and breaking behind, but also has the ability to hit from outside the box when necessary.

He featured as a striker in both a 3-4-3 and 4-4-2, but also sometimes played as a left forward in 4-3-3 at Benfica. On the left side of attack he was able to use both power and pace to bully opposing right-backs and cut inside to either pass or have a crack at goal. It is as a central striker, however, that he has played the most minutes and caused the most damage (including a goal against Liverpool in last season’s UEFA Champions League!).

His responsibilities varied depending on the formation. Benfica adopted a counter-attacking approach in the Champions League and a more possession-based approach in La Liga Nos. Darwin fit seamlessly into both setups — a good indication that he will be able to adapt to Liverpool’s fast-paced attack and gegenpress.

Irrespective of where he plays, the striker’s biggest asset is his sleek movement. His ability to slip into the box unnoticed and create space for himself plays a huge role in his impressive scoring record. His quick thinking is on display whenever a teammate is pressing the ball forward from midfield — he always seeks exploit the weakest link in the opposition defense. While lanky, his physical strength shouldn’t be understated as he is adept at holding the ball and bringing his teammates into play.

He does have some shortcomings, such as a propensity to misfire speculative long passes or to make the wrong decisions with the ball at times. Rather than hit a seemingly straightforward long pass, Darwin would rather drive into open space, shortening the distance between him and his target before successfully releasing the ball.

With the departure of Sadio Mane, a slot opens across Liverpool’s front three that Darwin is eventually expected to fill. His integration won’t be a straightforward process as the striker has to contend with competition from Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino, and Luis Diaz to occupy the two attacking slots not taken up by Mo Salah. But below is a sample of the formidable talent the Portuguese brings to bear.


Fantasy Prospects

In a never-ending arms race between the Premier League’s two dominant clubs, Darwin Nunez represents Liverpool’s response to Manchster City’s purchase of Norwegian superstar Erling Haaland. On paper, the upcoming season’s Golden Boot award should be a battle between these two new arrivals. But although Darwin’s all-competitions tally of 32 goals plus four assists in just 38 games for Benfica last season makes him look like an easy shoo-in for FPL teams, it might be a wise to first observe how Klopp decides to introduce him into the team and league.

Darwin’s lack of Premier League experience combined with Liverpool’s depth could see Klopp begin the new season with familiar faces in attack. I expect Klopp to ease Nunez into his system slowly, giving him time to adapt to his new team and league. The same gradual integration that worked so brilliantly for Luis Diaz in the middle of last season could again be used for Darwin’s introduction to life in the Prem (although it must be said that Diaz did not have the luxury of a pre-season with his new squad).

Klopp’s first interview on Darwin gives us insight into what to expect at the beginning of the new season:

“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.”

In FPL, I think we can expect his price to be similar to the likes of Jamie Vary and Romelu Lukaku (who is now set for a loan back to Inter Milan!). Once Darwin settles he should develop into a productive goal-scorer, making him a good value at that price point. But caveats remain. With fantasy studs such as Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson, Luis Diaz, and Virgil van Dijk also vying for our FPL attention, will we want to spend one of our three available Liverpool slots on Nunez? His history of knee injuries, including multiple surgeries, also raises eyebrows.

At the end of the day though, Liverpool’s record outlay to secure his services means a starting spot in the Reds’ attack should be only a matter or when, not if. Many fantasy managers will take the same approach.


Stats, quotes and info for this article were sourced from wikipedia.com, fantasypremierleague.com, totalfootballanalysis.com, breakingthelines.com, brotherlygame.com, www.liverpoolfc.com, www.sportingnews.com.

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What do you think about Darwin Nunez? Is he already in your fantasy plans, or will you wait to see how Klopp works him in next season? Please log in and share your thoughts in the comments below.

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