Darwin Nunez has endured a slow start to life in the Premier League, but netted his first Anfield goal in Liverpool’s victory over West Ham in a performance which underlined his potential.
It is not a word you associate with record signings, or flamboyant goalscorers seen as the next great superstar.
Yet as Darwin Nunez finally delivered a flavour of the outrageous talent which prompted Liverpool to pay up to £85m for his services, his boss Jurgen Klopp offered a reason for his slow start at the club: “Homesick”.
It is perhaps, the unspoken factor in his team’s almost baffling slump at the start of this season, because Nunez is the central plank in Klopp’s rebuilding programme, designed to refresh and eventually replace his first great Reds side.
It was always going to be a risk selling Sadio Mane at the peak of his remarkable powers. An even bigger one, replacing him with a young striker who’d had barely 18 months at a remotely high level, and even that with a club outside the big six European Leagues.
But that is what Klopp has been tasked to do – reinvent the team which pursued an historic quadruple last season, and build another one for the next five years. All whilst still challenging the oil-backed might of Manchester City.
The win against West Ham helps in that regard, edging Liverpool closer to the top four, but more importantly, showing that Nunez is a real threat in the right system when his side are functioning properly. His goal was impressive enough, but his performance was the real stand out. As Klopp said: “He is an exceptional talent, we can see that, the runs, the physicality, the speed, the finishing skills are exceptional.
But he is still raw, biting an onion levels of raw. And still very young too, in terms of his development. “Most of the time when you’re young, you have time to develop. We’re working on it,” Klopp said after the important victory.
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Darwin Nunez scored his first Anfield goal to suggest his early season lows are behind him
Nunez has had to be given that space, in part because, in his manager’s words, he “felt a little bit homesick, worrying and those sort of things”. So without Mane, and without the goals threat the Senegal striker offered – 23 goals for Liverpool last season, nine already for Bayern since his move – they have struggled.
Yet Nunez now has three in his last three starts, and looked devastating at times against a tough West Ham defence. And it was in that game, that we saw he offers Liverpool a different dimension – a physical presence up front, an aerial threat, and a promise of the spectacular.
It means Klopp has had to change his tried and trusted 4-3-3 system, but he sees the benefits. “He has everything, we’re really excited, but we are still developing (our) system, and he’s young, really young, so there are all sorts of things we have to do.”
One intriguing possibility Klopp floated, was a totally different style for Liverpool – two up front, with Nunez alongside Mo Salah. Again, that would provide a threat Klopp’s Anfield team has never offered before.
“There’s a chance we play with Darwin and Mo in the centre – that would be a high-speed combination!” he said with a smile. “But we need to get there somehow. We are still developing this kind of system and we have to figure out how it is best for specific games.”
The evidence suggests though, that Klopp is getting closer, and if he can accommodate Nunez more comfortably in the coming weeks, could just about be close enough to Manchester City by the World Cup break, to provide the second half of the season with at least a little bit of interest.