Darwin Nunez to Liverpool – Who is the forward with 34 goals in 41 games?

Liverpool are in hot pursuit of Benfica’s Darwin Nunez with a new attacker firmly on the agenda this summer, but who is the 22-year-old and what is the current state of play?

With Sadio Mane looking for the exit after six years at Anfield, Liverpool are on the hunt for another injection of talent into their forward line.

And it has taken them to Nunez, Benfica’s 22-year-old versatile forward with 34 goals in 41 appearances this season – which included two against Liverpool.

He is to demand a record-breaking fee for his signature, but what do we know about Nunez and the current state of play regarding the Reds’ interest?


Who is Darwin Nunez?

LISBON, PORTUGAL - APRIL 05: Darwin Nunez of S.L. Benfica celebrates after scoring their side's first goal during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Leg One match between SL Benfica and Liverpool FC at Estadio da Luz on April 05, 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues - UEFA)

The 22-year-old started his career in his native Uruguay, with Penarol giving him his first opportunity in senior football and his rise has been an exponential one.

His beginnings are humble and created an unrelenting desire to succeed, even in the face of injuries that threatened the start of his senior journey.

In 2017, as an 18-year-old he made his debut for Penarol but had to wait 11 months to score his maiden goal after a run of knee injuries, but that did not stop Europe from calling.

He only left Uruguay as recently as 2019, joining Almeria in the second division of Spanish football, allowing him to flourish with the spotlight shining so bright in his direction.

A period of adaptation was required but he’d go on to make 32 appearances for a return of 16 goals and three assists, and one season was all it took for Benfica to be convinced.

The Portuguese side parted with €24 million in 2020 for Nunez’s services, providing a platform to play on the biggest stage in European football and continue his upward trajectory.

In his first season with Benfica in 2020/21, he would make 43 appearances with 13 goals and 12 assists to his name, thriving in the central forward role.

But it is this season, 2021/22, that has seen his star garner greater attention thanks to a prolific campaign that saw him find the net 34 times in 41 games in all competitions, setting up a further four.

In an interview with Sky Sports, the former assistant manager at Almeria, David Badia, spoke highly of Nunez and his prospects in the Premier League having worked closely with the forward.

“I think he will fit perfectly in the Premier League. He is strong, he can compete in the duels, he is very fast.

“He has improved his first touch. If there is any league in the world in which he will fit perfectly it is the Premier League.”


Nunez in profile

Uruguay forward Darwin Nunez (11) before a friendly match between the United States and Uruguay on June 05, 2022 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, KS. (Credit Image: © Scott Winters/Icon SMI via ZUMA Press)

Age: 22
Height: 6’2
Nationality: Uruguayan
Preferred foot: Right

A player comfortable playing up front on his own or in a pair, as well as on the left in a front free, Nunez’s expert positioning and movement make him a prolific goalscorer.

The 22-year-old is strong in the air, is instinctive, can run with the ball and is not afraid to make selfless movements to make space for his teammates.

With age certainly on his side, he has plenty of time to refine parts of his game and his upside, in addition to what he already offers, makes him an exciting prospect for the short and long term.


What is the state of play?

Links to Nunez date back to last year, with Liverpool scouts keeping tabs on the forward before Klopp and co. got a closer look for themselves during the Champions League quarter-final.

In recent weeks that interest has escalated with reliable Merseyside reporters stating early in June that the Reds are prepared to break their transfer to land the Uruguayan.

A fee of £85 million was signposted — £10m more than the record fee for Virgil van Dijk — but with Man United and Atletico Madrid also interested parties, Liverpool did not want to engage in a bidding war.

Nunez was swiftly said to be ‘keen’ on an Anfield switch and will have had a taste of what it’s like having played and scored against Liverpool back in April.

Portuguese press, meanwhile, have stated that an agreement of €80m (£68.5m) in addition to €20m (£17.1m) in add-ons is only a matter of time.


What has Klopp said of Nunez?

The manager was complimentary of the Uruguayan prior to the Champions League second leg quarter-final tie against Benfica earlier in the season, having seen him excel at Anfield:

“Extremely good looking boy, huh? And a decent player as well. Really good, really good.

“I knew before, of course, but he played pretty much in front of me with his tough battles with Ibrahima Konate [in the first leg].

“He was physically strong, quick, was calm around his finish. Good, really good. I always say in these situations if he is healthy, it’s a big career ahead of him.”

It’s also interesting to note that international compatriot and ex-Red Luis Suarez was highly complimentary of the 22-year-old:

“I have 15 years of international experience. I know a thing or two about forwards. And I told them, ‘Pay attention to this one, he’s very good, he shows interesting things’,” he said of Nunez.


Role at Liverpool?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, April 13, 2022: Benfica's Darwin Nunez reacts as his goal is disallowed for off-side during the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg game between Liverpool FC and SL Benfica at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

While versatile across the forward line, Nunez, for many, represents what could be the next evolution for Klopp and his Liverpool side.

The manager has long favoured the 4-3-3 system but has deviated from that in his near seven years at the club, and Nunez, as a more traditional forward, could see a 4-2-3-1 formation readily turned to.

It would allow Nunez to lead the line with Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah on the wings, with the likes of Roberto Firmino and Harvey Elliott capable of slotting in the No. 10 role, as too Fabio Carvalho in the future.

A departure for Mane would take an option away but with Diogo Jota also in the ranks, there are options in abundance for Liverpool to be flexible with their approach.

Klopp has consistently sought to evolve each and every season, never staying stagnate in the search for success, and Nunez represents an intriguing option that could play a decisive role in the next stage of evolution.