Liverpool look set to very quickly confirm the signing of Darwin Nunez from Benfica as their first major arrival of the summer – so what should Reds expect from him?
The Reds are closing in on the Benfica forward, with personal terms agreed and a deal worth upwards of £85 million widely reported – the feeling is all that is left is the rubber stamp.
The 22-year-old would then take the title of the club’s record signing from Virgil van Dijk, lending itself to a number of questions about what he can offer Liverpool in the short and long term.
Of course, Reds fans did get a couple of close-up views of the Uruguayan striker’s talents, as he netted twice across the two Champions League quarter-final legs.
But what about on a week-to-week basis across a 34-goal season?
To get the lowdown on where his best traits, areas to improve and potential ceiling all might be, This Is Anfield spoke to Alfredo Fumacas of the Benfica Podcast (@BenficaPodcast).
* Having been covering As Aguias for over a decade, Alfredo and Co are perfectly placed not just to talk about the 22-year-old’s great campaign and impending departure, but how he compares to those who came before him.
Let’s start at the top: what makes Nuñez such a special player? What is his single most stand-out trait on a regular basis?
Easy – the most impressive characteristic that Darwin has is his speed and his physicality.
Couple that with his resilience and a never-quit attitude and you have a player with an extremely high work rate.
He will give his all for his team – which should work well with Klopp’s ethos.
And what about areas to improve? What is his consistency like, game to game and remaining involved throughout the 90?
I’d say his technical ability is something that needs quite a bit of development and improvement.
His first touch is not the best and often we’ll see his physicality and quickness have to make up for a looser touch.
The positive is that the effort level and the way he invests himself in the game are what you can expect from Darwin on a regular basis – it’s not uncommon to see Darwin still doing sprints late in the game. He is that type of player.
Benfica sold Joao Felix for a monster fee; while different types of forwards, how does Darwin compare to him from an overall talent perspective? Is €100m a fair valuation?
There is no comparison, Felix is world-class, with elite technical abilities – while Darwin’s biggest current negative is his technical level.
He has stood out this past season because of his physical traits and because Benfica became too dependent on him for goals. Essentially, due to the lack of other solutions on the field, his performances became a highlight because of Benfica’s poor season, if that makes sense: he was a standout in a disappointing overall campaign.
In terms of his valuation, with so many of Europe’s top clubs enquiring, the price was always going to be inflated.
Honestly, in my opinion, it’s a bit high for the player he is now, but time could show it to be a bargain.
Everyone thought Ruben Dias was overvalued for example, yet today the feeling is that Man City underpaid for him.
Darwin is still young and the potential is definitely there – and importantly, Liverpool’s track record in terms of signings have proven they are not wrong too often, especially with Portuguese or Portuguese-based signings like Jota and Diaz.
Let’s talk tactics: Benfica have used both a two-man strikeforce and a lone No. 9. Where has he excelled or struggled with and which position is his best?
Darwin operated much better when he could find room in the channels and with space in front of him to use his speed and strength.
He can operate as a No. 9 searching for pockets between the centre-back and full-back, or on the wing going one-vs-one with a defender.
There he can benefit from an advantage in terms of his speed and strength.
Operating in small spaces where touch is key is where he will struggle, for example holding the ball up right in between two centre-backs or in a tight area where the touch-and-run will not be an option.
Liverpool are one of the most aggressive pressing sides in Europe; how do you think he’ll adapt to this task?
He will be perfect for this style!
The doubts will come into play, though, when he needs to fire an accurate ball quickly off the counterpress transition.
Let’s finish with a prediction: How big of a success will he be in the Premier League overall?
Tough to say – it all depends on how he adapts and how much he will grow under Klopp.
Benfica bought him from Almeria for a very high fee, and at the time there were a lot of questions from the fanbase as to why the club paid that much for a player from Spain’s second tier, who wasn’t even the top scorer that year.
It’s important to remember he did not have the best first season at Benfica due to confidence issues – perhaps the pressure of being an expensive signing – and a more demanding level.
Whether he will go through the same immediate mental challenge at Liverpool is anyone’s guess but he can also be a longer-term success at Anfield as he has been at the Estadio da Luz.