Captain Chaos: Darwin Núñez

Liverpool’s South-American summer signing has had a chaotic start to life on Merseyside. Having received a boat load of attention, good and bad alike, is the Uruguayan living up to expectations or are the critics right?

Since arriving from Benfica in the summer, Darwin Gabriel Núñez Ribeiro has been in the spotlight for almost every reason you could think. Scoring 4 goals in one pre-season game, followed by a goal to steal away the Community Shield from rivals Manchester City at the King Power Stadium in late July 2022, hopes were high for Klopp’s new talisman. However, in only game-week 2 of the Premier League, Crystal Palace defender Joachim Andersen provoked the young striker into a head-butt leading to a red card and subsequent suspension.

This rocky start led many sceptics to voice their doubt about how Núñez would settle as the front-man in Klopp’s high-octane attack. The red card was an absolute “moment of madness” according to Gary Neville (Sky Sports), which left fans, pundits and even team officials puzzled as to what was going through the striker’s head.

“There’s no history of that at Benfica, he’s not been sent off there. That’s the stupidity of tonight. He’s a young player and it’s a steep learning curve for him tonight.”

Gary Neville on Sky Sports following Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace at Anfield in August 2022

Once Núñez had served his time on the side-lines, he seemed to take a few games to find his feet, but once finding them, the goals came in bunches. In match-week 12 against West Ham, the Reds came out winners in a close-fought game thanks to a spectacular headed finish when Núñez rose to meet a cross from Kostas Tsimikas in the 22nd minute.

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

In the final 10 games before the Premier League went on a winter break for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the chaotic nature of Núñez led to a return of 7 goals. Seemingly having adjusted to life in England, the criticism died down and many began to see the potential of the £64 million man.

Uruguay then proceeded to have a very disappointing run-out in the World Cup, crashing out in the group stage with only 2 goals scored in 3 games – none of which coming from the Liverpool striker. Núñez re-joined the squad in Dubai for a mid-season camp gearing up for the return of the competitive club season.

Unfortunately, Darwin has struggled to replicate his pre-World Cup goal scoring form and if anything, has been extremely wasteful. Online forums and social media have made the out-of-form centre-forward somewhat of a meme. With Núñez being in the 99th percentile for shots taken per 90 (4.85) this season, but only managing a poor conversion rate of only 10.64%, it’s clear that Klopp’s number 27 isn’t exactly helping to improve Liverpool’s already poor run of form this season.

What do the numbers really say?

A look at the data might suggest that online perceptions of Núñez being a ‘flop’ are not only premature, but are also hyperbole.

A look at the data might suggest that online perceptions of Núñez being a ‘flop’ are not only premature, but are also hyperbole.

In his first season with Benfica he scored 11 league and European goals with an xG of 9, which at the time was perceived as somewhat of a let-down. However, in the very next season Benfica’s former number 9 seemed a different breed of goal scorer, as he outperformed his xG of 23.58, netting 32 league and European goals for the Portuguese outfit.

Could this be an indication of an inexperienced head just needing a season to settle at Anfield, just as he did in Lisbon or that Liverpool may have prematurely purchased a player after a season-long purple-patch?

The table above showcases the attacking contribution of Núñez’s this season in the league for Liverpool. You’ll see that the striker is in fact still narrowly outperforming his xG of 4.9 – as he has consistently done in past seasons with Benfica – meaning that although he seems wasteful, he is in fact making the most of the quality of chances he is getting.

Hitting the target roughly half the time (51.06%) he pulls the trigger, the Uruguayan has at times this season perhaps jumped the gun when in front of goal. He has shown a tendency to take shots first time, where, although he looks capable of doing so, may be another symptom of his chaotic nature – a nature that Jurgen Klopp will look to prune and cultivate into the perfect blend of chaos and composure.

You could also perceive the misfortune in front of goal to be a case of narrow margins and bad luck. Having hit the woodwork 5 times and having multiple goals disallowed due to offside with the intervention of VAR, things could have been very different if lady luck had favoured him.

In Conclusion…

Darwin Núñez is the personification of chaos, and the criticism he is receiving feels premature and predominantly down to the price tag attached to him.

But these are things out of his control.

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

What is under his control is how he acts and performs on the field, which despite a rocky start, seems to be improving week-by-week. The football world will mock him because that is their nature and their right, but the young marksman’s numbers do the talking (and so do his provocative celebrations, but I digress). Yes, there is room for improvement, but the per-90 numbers are amongst the best in the league.

Ultimately, he has all the tools to succeed as the linchpin in Klopp’s attacking unit. His pace, strength, versatility and work-rate gives him the perfect foundation to inject intensity back into the Liverpool side and catapult himself to the top of the footballing world.

All stats and tables provided by www.footystats.org


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *