Things are going to be a little different around Anfield next season. Liverpool have already bid farewell to Sadio Mané, and have welcomed his new heir to the throne in Darwin Núñez.
But Núñez will bring a completely different type of profile to Liverpool‘s attack. A tall spindly legged forward with the pace and the physicality to be a menace running from deep and inside the box, for the first time, Jürgen Klopp could have a proper traditional number nine leading his attacking line rather than the false nines he has deployed in the position over the course of the past few seasons.
Much has been made of Núñez’s ability to herald a new evolution and metamorphosis in attack at Anfield, but while the ‘new’ qualities the Uruguayan brings to the Liverpool attack are exciting, it’s important to note that the 22-year-old is also someone who is well-suited to Klopp’s style of play and who will relish working in the club’s system.
Núñez’s speed will be pivotal for Liverpool in attacking transitions and is a quintessential trait of every attacker. His ability to find pockets of space inside the box and his merciless finishing are all required of an attacking player.
But perhaps one facet which has gone under the radar is Núñez’s voracious appetite for the ball and willingness to track back and involve himself in defensive situations on a regular basis.
Liverpool.com have been speaking to Núñez’s former coaches and many highlighted his ability to track back as one of his best assets and something that has been ingrained in him from the beginning of his career.
“His most outstanding qualities were his athletic physique, winning mentality, exceptional ability in the air and, of course, he is a natural goalscorer. But one thing that stood out to me the most was that he always lent a hand in defensive transitions and chased back to help his teammates out,” Gonzalo de los Santos, Peñarol’s sporting director explained to Liverpool.com about his former protégé.
His fitness coach at Almeria, Javier Agenjo Duran, also echoed similar sentiments.
“Physically, of course, he is ready. Obviously, it’s a big step ahead in his career, and he will know that he will have to work hard and run, but I think of course he is prepared for that.”
The numbers also back up his impressive trait.
In the last calendar year in the Champions League and the Europa League, Núñez ranked in the 81st percentile for interceptions made per 90 (0.59) and the 82nd percentile for interceptions and tackles made per 90 (1.61) as per FBref.
Núñez ranked in 12th place among centre-forwards for possession-adjusted interceptions (2.14 per 90) in Liga NOS last season and for attackers who averaged at least 2.5 defensive duels per 90, Núñez enjoyed the best success rate in the entire league winning 63.79 per cent of his duels via Wyscout.
In a system like Liverpool where the onus is even more on pressurising opponents and involving the attackers in defensive duels, this Núñez trait could come to the fore even more. Klopp will relish the opportunity of working with a player who already has impressive defensive figures and who has always stood out for his willingness to work.
This has the makings of a match made in heaven.