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Darwinism 2.0: How Darwin Nunez transfer could lead to Liverpool formation change

Liverpool have made Darwin Nunez their second signing of the summer transfer window. Will his arrival lead Jurgen Klopp to return to an old favourite formation?

The potential club-record fee for 22-year-old Nunez has ruffled lots of feathers, but will it ruffle Liverpool’s formation or tactics?

The answer will be no, as the club only sign players they think will fit what they already have planned, but that doesn’t mean Nunez won’t give Klopp different options.

One of these could be a return to his once favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.

When first digging into Klopp’s tactics at Liverpool back in 2016, after he’d been in charge for one year, there were the beginnings of a move from the 4-2-3-1 he used at Borussia Dortmund and in early games at Liverpool to the successful 4-3-3 we’ve seen versions of since.

There have been tweaks in the way the midfielders operate, especially the two in front of or alongside the holding midfielder.

Depending on their individual strengths, these midfielders have done everything from support the forward line to dropping back into a flat three – or something resembling that 4-2-3-1, but not quite it.

Nunez’s arrival from Benfica has led to suggestions Klopp may return to the more orthodox version of that formation.

 

The Nú Lewandowski?

LISBON, PORTUGAL - Tuesday, April 5, 2022: Benfica's Darwin Nunez during the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 1st Leg game between SL Benfica and Liverpool FC at the Estádio da Luz. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Many German football experts, or even some Bayern fans, are disappointed that the perennial Bundesliga champions didn’t make a move for Nunez as their replacement for Robert Lewandowski.

Prior to signing for Bayern, the centre-forward was a key part of Klopp’s Dortmund setup, and the comparisons between the Pole and Nunez by those who follow German football are another hint that Klopp could be returning to the 4-2-3-1.

The suggestions seem to be that Nunez is Klopp’s new Lewandowski.

At this moment we are merely second-guessing what Klopp and his coaching staff will do, and they could well stick with a 4-3-3, using Nunez as a cross between Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota in that centre-forward role.

Nunez replaces the aerial target Liverpool will miss if Sadio Mane leaves and also the awkward centre-forwardness of the departed Divock Origi.

In some ways he’s a replacement for both players and would allow the club to focus their recruitment efforts on other positions and attributes.

His all-round ability and athleticism, plus the fact he’s still young enough to be moulded into the type of striker Klopp wants him to be, means the Lewandowski comparisons may have some weight, but at the moment the comparisons are mostly positional.

 

No. 10 or second striker

PARIS, FRANCE - Friday, May 27, 2022: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino, Harvey Elliott, Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold during a training session at the Stade de France ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final game between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid CF. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In the position alongside or behind Nunez in this hypothetical 4-2-3-1, Liverpool would have a number of options.

It would depend on whether they want to use this position to accommodate a playmaking No. 10 or a support striker. They have options for both and will likely use both at some point.

You can imagine Firmino enjoying a new lease of life in this role as a combination of both, while Thiago’s all-round creativity and technique means he could easily slot in as a No. 10 if needed.

This position would also be useful for young players Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho. Liverpool signed both as highly rated talents who have the quality to be first-team squad members.

Fulham's Fabio Carvalho celebrates (Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

For this pathway to exist and attract other similar players in the future, they’ll need to be playing games.

The main thing is that they are good enough to do so; Elliott has already proved as much, with Carvalho showing promising signs at Fulham.

A formation that accommodates a No. 10 would be ideal for them, though both are versatile enough to play wide in the 4-2-3-1 if needed, or still in a 4-3-3.

Another option in this position is Jota. The Portuguese sometimes played a similar role for Wolves, around or behind a more typical No. 9 in Raul Jimenez.

Last season, Jota displayed good finishing instincts in the box and also demonstrated considerable aerial prowess.

Imagine the aerial threat of Diogo Jota behind Nunez, making it the 4-2-4 we have already seen at times from Klopp when Liverpool are searching for a goal.

Even if this is used when not chasing late goals, Trent Alexander-Arnold could drop into midfield rather than overlapping, which would still produce a 2-3-5 in possession which we often see with the 4-3-3 anyway.

 

Other considerations

LISBON, PORTUGAL - Tuesday, April 5, 2022: Benfica's Darwin Nunez (L) and Liverpool's Ibrahima Konaté during the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 1st Leg game between SL Benfica and Liverpool FC at the Estádio da Luz. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

– No new midfielder needed, yet…

Midfield is widely suggested as the next area of the team that needs strengthening, but if Liverpool do switch to a 4-2-3-1 they might not think they need to.

With the players mentioned above as options in the position behind the striker, that leaves midfield starting spots for two of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Thiago, Naby Keita and James Milner.

They may consider that more than enough depth in this area.

Where Curtis Jones fits into this would remain to be seen, but you imagine he could do a job in the wide positions as well as the central midfield ones.

This means they could wait until next season to sign a next-generation midfielder, in a similar age bracket to Nunez this summer and Ibrahima Konate last.

LISBON, PORTUGAL - APRIL 05: Darwin Nunez (R) of S.L. Benfica celebrates with teammate Goncalo Ramos of S.L. Benfica 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)

– 4-4-2

Seeing as Nunez has been used to playing alongside another striker at Benfica, there is also the possibility of a formation that ends up looking like a 4-4-2 once Liverpool are defending in their own half.

– Set-piece specialists

Nunez scored six headers for Benfica last season, the same number Jota managed for Liverpool.

The Reds are seemingly an ever-increasing threat at set-pieces, in terms of both delivery and aerial ability, and Nunez will only add to this.

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