Darwin Nunez Needs to Prove That He Can Be at the Center of Liverpool’s Reinvention
Thus far, the 2022-23 soccer season hasn’t gone according to plan for Liverpool and Darwin Nunez. The club, on the whole, has struggled to establish any form of on-field consistency. As for the Uruguayan striker, he initially made an impact, then knocked himself out of the lineup with a foolish red card. Now, more than a month into the campaign, things need to change.
After a Champions League defeat to Napoli, manager Jurgen Klopp mentioned the prospect of Liverpool reinventing itself. While there’s some room to debate what that means, it could shine a spotlight squarely on Darwin Nunez.
Due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Liverpool’s first match since that disappointing trip to Italy will be a Champions League date with Ajax. That outing will provide Nunez with the perfect platform to show that he can be a part of the Reds’ evolution.
Liverpool needs to change something, and Jurgen Klopp has teased a potential reinvention
As the cliche says, insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Through that lens, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Jurgen Klopp to shake things up at Anfield.
While it’s not 100% clear what’s prompted the drop-off — fatigue and a lack of midfield reinforcements probably haven’t helped — Liverpool have stumbled out of the gate this season. Barring a dismantling of Bournemouth, the squad hasn’t played with Klopp’s signature intensity. Without that, the system has collapsed.
Everyone has always known that you can beat the Reds by exploiting the space behind their attacking fullbacks, but doing that was easier said than done. Now, though, the midfield is less capable of covering those gaps, and Virgil van Dijk, who used to mop up everything played in behind, looks human. Combine that with Mohamed Salah struggling and the departure of Sadio Mane, and there isn’t much to fear about Liverpool at the moment.
That reality explains why, after the defeat in Naples, Klopp raised the specter of reinvention.
“We know how it happened, now we need to understand why it happened. We have to reinvent ourselves. There are a lot of things lacking,” the manager explained (h/t The Athletic). “We are not working as a team. We do not play good enough — that is obvious — that is why we lose games.”
It’s not clear what Klopp is considering — some have suggested he’s talking more about a return to form than a radical change — but it’s clear that something has got to give.
If we’re talking about a stylistic evolution, Darwin Nunez could be a key part of Liverpool’s growth
When Jurgen Klopp began turning Liverpool into a powerhouse, Roberto Firmino was a central part of the club’s attack. Over time, though, the Brazilian became less and less important. The likes of Virgil van Dijk would ping long balls to either Salah or Mane, and the opposition would immediately be under pressure. The need for a central focal point, especially one who could drop deep, wasn’t necessary.
The arrival of Darwin Nunez, however, would seem to change that. While the Uruguayan striker can drift out to the left side, he’s a tall, strong target in the center of the pitch. He’s capable of doing all the classic things you’d expect from a center forward, like pinning defenders, pushing the defensive line back, and getting on the end of crosses, but he’s also a technical player who’s capable of doing things with the ball at his feet.
If we return to the idea of reinvention, it’s easy to see how his presence could alter Liverpool’s attack. On the most basic level, Nunez will provide a central pivot point for Salah and Luis Diaz to work off of. Think back to the opening day draw against Fulham. While the young striker didn’t play the cleanest game, he made things happen with his presence in the box. Going a bit more direct could help the attack score a few more goals, taking a bit of pressure off the defense.
It’s also worth noting that playing long balls to a central striker would let Liverpool remain in a tighter defensive block. While it would be naive to imagine the team playing sitting deep for 90 minutes and simply booting it long, Nunez’s presence and hold-up play could provide a bit more stability for rocky moments.
Beyond that, it’s possible that Klopp could get a bit more creative. If he’s truly concerned about the midfield cover and the space behind his fullbacks, the manager could make things a bit more lopsided. Since we know that Nunez is comfortable on the left-hand side, he could drift wide with Luis Diaz sitting outside of him. With the Colombian closer to the touchline, Andy Robertson could take up a more defensive position.
Returning to the attack, Salah could drift a centrally, with Trent Alexander-Arnold advancing into the wide right position. That would allow him to make the most of his attacking strengths — whipping in crosses to a legitimate aerial target at the back post — and hopefully keep a bit of extra defensive structure behind him.
All of that, however, is a moot point if Nunez doesn’t prove capable of holding down a starting spot. If his time in Portugal was any indication, he’s more than capable of leading the line at Anfield, but with the team struggling, the rubber has to meet the road.