Darwin Nunez has started just one of Liverpool’s five games since the international break in March
Darwin Nunez has made one start for Liverpool since the international break in March.
After being forced to withdraw from Uruguay’s squad last month due to a cut ankle, it was assumed that his inclusion on the bench against Manchester City was being done with caution due to the aforementioned setback. A return to the starting XI against Chelsea the following week seemed to support such a theory.
The Reds ultimately struggled against the Londoners, but the 23-year-old remained his team’s most dangerous attacking threat. As a result, when he was withdrawn after 79 minutes, people raised their eyebrows.
Nunez was limited to 79 minutes of substitute action against Arsenal, Leeds United, and Nottingham Forest, leaving supporters perplexed.
After all, if you pay £64 million for a striker, you expect him to start. Though, to be fair, little has been made of Jurgen Klopp’s decision to play Nunez on the left rather than his preferred central position in the second half of the season.
Meanwhile, in this disappointing season for Liverpool as a whole, the forward has provided Kopites with rare joy. It’s no surprise that he quickly became a fan favorite as an unpredictable agent of chaos.
Despite his limited playing time over the last month, he scored his 15th goal of the season after coming on late in the 6-1 win over Leeds. Make no mistake, he makes things happen in the final third when he’s on the pitch.
But it appears that is no longer enough for his boss. Klopp expressed his frustrations with Nunez last week, prior to the match against Forest, after a season of praising and defending his, at times, under-fire striker.
“Darwin is a player with a different skill set than the rest of our team. That’s fantastic, that’s fantastic,” Klopp told reporters last week. “He’s a real handful, a machine, and he’s going to score a lot of goals.”
“He’s already got a decent number of goals.” That’s fine, but, of course, he’s still adjusting. His English is still mediocre, if it exists at all. We are working very hard on it.
“He has no choice but to learn English.” We can translate anything, but we can’t have four languages in a training session and translate it. It’s a football language, so it’ll be extremely beneficial to him.
“Having a difficult debut season for the entire team is not beneficial.” How can a striker stand out when the rest of the team is struggling? That’s not possible, but he had some fantastic moments for us. However, he was injured at times and suspended at others. That’s not helpful, but it’s not a problem.”
“This is a long-term project,” he continued. I understand that he is desperate to play from the start. That’s all right. But we must find a way to make it truly work for us again.
“And then we have to fit in the players who have specific strengths that we can use.” I am completely content with the situation, but I recognize that Darwin is not always content. But it’s not that he smiles at me when he realizes he’s not going to start. ‘Thank you very much, boss.’
“It isn’t like that, but it is perfectly fine.” That is how we must handle the situation. I have to make decisions when we have five or six players available upfront. That’s great. That’s great, and it should stay that way. Then we’ll see what happens. The door is wide open, boys. The more sessions we have, the more opportunities you will have to attend.
“He came on against Leeds and was outstanding.” He was outstanding. Not only did he score the goal, but he also scored before that. He was simply outstanding. It was the ideal method.
“Everyone who came on stage was on fire.” That is exactly what we require. We have five games in two weeks, and Darwin will undoubtedly start them.”
Nunez was a substitute again against Forest, despite his ‘exceptional’ cameo against Leeds. Such communication issues were evident in Saturday’s 3-2 win, with a confusing exchange with Jordan Henderson not going unnoticed as Morgan Gibbs-White was left unmarked on the edge of the box to score the Tricky Trees’ second equalizer.
It remains to be seen whether Nunez is given a recall against West Ham after scoring the game-winning goal against them earlier this season at Anfield. However, given that Diogo Jota has scored four goals and provided two assists in his last five starts, breaking a year-long goal drought in the process after being pushed ahead of the Uruguayan, the prospect of the Portuguese starting ahead of him is not as remote as it might have been at the start of the month.
Furthermore, Klopp has repeatedly emphasized the importance of his team defending from the front. Reading between the lines, this is something the Liverpool management sees in Jota but may not see in Nunez.
“It requires a specific set up that he can play and defend in the center,” Klopp said ahead of the match against Forest. “That’s the way it is. Playing in the center is no problem for him; he’s a machine there.
“Then we must ensure that we understand as a group.” We weren’t stable for a long time this season. On top of everything else, the boys must adjust to different defending and a different striker up top.”
Meanwhile, following Jota’s brace in the 3-2 win over Forest, he said: “Again, that shows you can be involved in absolutely every defensive situation as an offensive player and still be a threat offensively.” There is none.
“That is what makes him so valuable to us.” That is why he is deserving of it. It’s wonderful to have these positive things after he’s been out for such a long time.”
Klopp would then emphasize the importance of defending from the front ahead of the trip to West Ham, quickly shifting focus when asked how pleased he was with his forwards’ recent prolific scoring returns.
“Yes, we’re happy the boys are there,” he said. “Not only do we need them to score, but we also need them to defend.” That was a problem this season when we lost our focus.
“That is the first job for offensive players, in my opinion, because it gives you stability if you defend as a unit.” We don’t need any players waiting in positions for a counter-attack; we need players to defend collectively and have the speed and technique to cause problems for other teams when we get the ball.”
Each comment is harmless enough on its own. Selection decisions are nothing more than a hint. But, when put together, it paints a picture of why Nunez has been relegated to the bench in recent weeks. Klopp’s obvious message is hardly sutble when taken together.
He had an impressive first season at Liverpool, but goals are clearly not everything. Now, as the Reds look to finish the season strongly, Klopp is turning to a familiar face in Jota as his team gradually rediscovers their intensity.
Nunez should be better suited to such demands after a full season in England, one would hope. His mid-season switch to the wing, however, was intended to help him get up to speed defensively.
Now, Klopp’s comments, both about Nunez’s difficulties learning English and subsequent issues with the demands at both ends of the pitch, show that he has grown frustrated at not being able to fully rely on his £64m signing at the season’s end. He hopes it will serve as a wake-up call.
Of course, he will not lose patience. As the German also stated, his new striker ‘is a long-term project.’ But Klopp has made it clear what he expects from Nunez next season if he is to reclaim a starting spot on a consistent basis.
He had a strong first season at Liverpool, but goals aren’t everything. Now, as the Reds look to finish strong, Klopp is turning to a familiar face in Jota to help his team gradually rediscover their intensity.
Nunez, one would hope, will be better suited to such demands after a full season in England. His mid-season switch to the wing, on the other hand, was meant to help him get up to speed defensively.