Darwin Nunez: Mr. Taurine Man

If those of us, on the real world, google reviews before buying even the cheapest things (how is that hoover working for you?) can you imagine the psychological strain of buying something that costs (at least) 85 million pounds? So, the guys who take at least 2 hours to choose a movie on Netflix saw Darwin Nunez missing a couple of shots on a Youtube video and went for it. Did we just spend a fortune on this guy? Add that to a couple of matches with some stunning misses and the doubt consumed the little patience that football fans are known for. That is right, Darwin Nunez started an argument that extended itself to Portugal – where Benfica, Sporting and Porto fans argued enthusiastically the virtues and flaws of the Uruguayan. But that (as you know for sure) it is a parallel world where fans give very definitive opinions based on almost nothing. And knowing now that Nunez scored 4(!) goals in 45 minutes against Red Bull team Leipzig, the other side of the barricade is claiming victory. Not so fast, boys. It isn’t settled because unless you are Nostradamus you are never going to be 100% sure if Darwin is going to make it at Anfield. There are too many things to consider and it would be (very) wise if we can discuss at least some before booing him or give him the ballon d’or just because. So, what kind of player really is Darwin Nunez?

And the 45 minutes against Leipzig may answer the question if only that one considered the kind of player that Darwin is right now. Yes, the thing that made Klopp and the Liverpool board go nuts and spend 85 million pounds was not the player that Nunez is right now. It was, obviously, the player that Darwin is going to be shaped to be. Otherwise the price tag would be much lower, but even so considerably expensive. That because Darwin is already a footballer with a lot to give to Klopp’s plan. He is physically impressive and that (monstrous like) physicality and energy makes him the perfect player to be a brilliant fit for Klopp’s gegenpressing. Not only does he press really hard (loads and loads of energy and strength on the guy) but he is too the perfect player for when that counter pressing works because of his impressive reading of the exact moment to use is nitro like acceleration and leave defenders behind. And you can see bits of that feature on the Leipzig match, where he scored 3 of his 4 goals right after one of the midfielders wons the ball.

Wherever there is space behind the defensive line Darwin is going to get it. Here, the ball is uncovered and Curtis as a lot of space. Knowing that, Willi Orban (Leipzig’s number 4) starts to protect the space behind. But Darwin started quicker and got it first (as he always do in a situation like this one). Luckily for Leipzig’s defence his run started from a central point and Curtis’ pass went way to the right to create a chance. Yes, he gives you wings (well, at least one) too. The problem for the Uruguayan is that Diaz owns that space for now.

However, the most important bits of that particular game were not those that go on the highlights. For you to know Darwin better those 4 goals will not give much. You will have some perspective about how he moves on those positive transition moments, but there is a lot more to consider. Especially when Klopp is clearly giving him the role of striker. And on that position a player has to give a lot more than blocking build-ups and moving (really) well after his mates win the ball. Playing there you have to be a holder and, more than that, you have to decide and execute really fast and well. There is where Darwin lacks (for now) technique, experience and clarity of mind. On a match easily won where he scored an, always tough to get, poker, we could count too many unforced errors when Darwin tried to emulate Bobby Firmino. So, on that particular field – and knowing how the space on the Premier League is so tight – Darwin as a lot to improve, especially mentally, because it is going to be his clarity of mind, his self-esteem, the way he thinks of himself and what he can do on the field that is going to make him improve. So why do I bring this up?

Liverpool’s build up added a way of exploring Darwin’s potential of starting runs from the centre-left. Curtis as a holder liberated the perfect space for him and from there (where he can see his opponent back) he is really lethal because he will receive the ball in a central position where he can use his powerful right foot.

So, I brought the psychological bit up because what you saw on that Youtube video (of him missing some shots and getting the good ol’ roast from the fans and rivals) we saw it (a lot!) at Portugal when he arrived to Lisbon. Shy and with doubt drawing his facial and body expressions he designed a poor beginning with a lot of missed chances and some assists where a player like him could have easily scored. The explosive player, the one with the powerful shot, the one that wins the space behind the defence so easily appeared only when people were not expecting much of him. And with that detachment on his mind he could release himself from the pressure of being (guess what!) the most expensive player that Benfica have ever bought (deja vu?). But to be completely honest, I will have to add that the role that made him famous was not the common striker role. Playing in 343, Jorge Jesus’ Benfica had in Darwin an extraordinary diagonal runner. Starting on the left of the attack (kind of where Luis Diaz is playing on Klopp’s 433) we was the attacking reference for his teammates, and that particular space suited him better because he didn’t have to hold the ball as much, he only had to use his power to create a lot of chances and goals. And with him on the field you will have that for sure. His power, speed, strength and powerful shot (not so good with the headers for now) can rest Liverpool fans that chances are coming. But his mind (especially his self esteem) got to rise about self doubt to handle the Anfield pressure with the kind of detachment that the best strikers use. The way he is going to react to that factor will give you the answer if he is going transform those chances in goals and make his history with the Kop by his side.

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