Darwin Nunez’s Liverpool career so far has been equal parts captivating and chaotic. Until now it is perhaps best summed up by his high-octane cameo against Manchester City on Sunday. The Uruguayan’s frenetic 18-minute display might have yielded multiple goals and assists with improved decision-making and finishing but that City just had no idea how to contain him should also be noted.
Much has been made of Nunez’s fee – £64million rising to a possible £85m – but there have been flashes from the South American to hint at a promising future for him at Liverpool. For now he remains incredibly raw but he’s willing and he’s a livewire. City’s back-line had no clue how to defend him at Anfield.
But Diogo Jota’s late injury, one that looks like it might keep him out until after the World Cup break if the Reds’ worst fears are realised, is a real headache for Jurgen Klopp. With Luis Diaz already out until at least late December, any period of absence for Jota will be sorely felt.
Without him and Diaz, Klopp lacks a natural left-sided winger. Fabio Carvalho can play there but doesn’t offer the same pace and directness as a Diaz or a Jota. So perhaps to avoid having two wide-men, in Carvalho and Elliott, who are more inclined to cut inside and find a pass than drive forward with the ball, Klopp may make the unexpected move of asking Nunez to play wide for greater dynamism.
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The 23-year-old was ultimately signed as a long-term centre-forward replacement for Roberto Firmino but the Brazilian is in undroppable form at the moment. Against City, Firmino played as a No 10 behind Salah with Harvey Elliott to the right and Jota to the left. That switch got the best from Salah, keeping him involved in dangerous areas throughout the contest.
And in a tweak Klopp would never have expected himself to need to fall back on, Liverpool could keep that same tactical 4-2-3-1 set-up by starting the fizzing ball of energy that is Nunez out wide. The striker naturally gravitates to the left side in games, as he did after replacing Firmino vs City.
He scored an abundance of goals by floating in the space in between the centre-back and the left-back at Benfica last season. It was a burst from the left that saw him score at Anfield in Benfica’s 3-3 Champions League quarter-final second-leg draw there last season, a match in which he was a standout performer.
While Nunez was signed to become the new centrepiece of the Liverpool attack, were he able to plug a hole on the left for a few weeks he would be helping out his manager immensely. And it could provide the 13-cap Uruguay international a consistent run of starts for the first time in England, which he needs.
He will of course need to work on his decision-making out wide, with it clear he should have squared to Salah for a tap-in in a counter-attack against City. And he’d also need to put in the hard yards defensively too, but by choosing when and where to press like Sadio Mane learned to do so effectively.
It’s not an easy decision to pick Nunez over Carvalho who has also impressed this season. But Nunez being situated out wide is an interesting proposition that Klopp will surely consider, if only at least for Wednesday’s visit of West Ham. If he does, expect more chaos – but expect it to be great entertainment.