Premier League • England

Darwin Nunez: Key games in which new Liverpool spearhead can make the difference

Dave Tindall
Darwin Nunez of SL Benfica celebrates after scoring a goal during the Portuguese League football match between SL Benfica and CD Santa Clara at the Luz stadium

Our Liverpool writer Dave Tindall reveals how Darwin Nunez can have a major impact on Jurgen Klopp’s men after his big-money signing from Benfica.

Scoring 147 goals in a season suggests Liverpool don’t exactly have a problem when it comes to putting the ball in the net. And yet, when they needed to most, the Reds came up short in the big games last season.

In three finals against Chelsea (twice) and Real Madrid, Jurgen Klopp’s men didn’t score once in a combined five-and-a-half hours of football.

Penalty kicks got them over the line against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup and FA Cup but firing blanks cost the Reds in the Champions League final.

And despite another brilliant Premier League campaign that left them just a point shy of Manchester City’s winning total of 93 points, it was notable that Liverpool failed to score a single win over the three other sides that finished in the top four.

On first glance, it seems their defence was the problem. They played out a pair of 2-2 draws with Man City and had 1-1 and 2-2 stalemates with both Chelsea and Tottenham.

But there’s no law against winning 3-2. Spurs went to the Etihad and triumphed in a five-goal thriller. Had Liverpool done the same, they’d have won the title.

While there was much speculation and argument over whether Manchester City would be even better with an out-and-out striker, that same conversation was never had about Liverpool.

It didn’t seem necessary the way Mo Salah was banging them in. Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota also kept the goals flowing.

But when Mane made his intentions clear that it was time to move on from Anfield, the Reds decided against a like-for-like replacement.

Nunez a true No.9

Instead of picking a forward who COULD play through the middle, they went for one who DID play there. An out-and-out number nine in the form of Darwin Nunez.

When Spurs won 3-2 at Man City, it was their centre-forward, Harry Kane, who made the difference. He put Tottenham ahead and then popped up to score an injury-time winner.

Darwin Nunez, Benfica striker, warming up before Champions League - Quarter Final - Second Leg - Liverpool v Benfica - Anfield, Liverpool

Now Liverpool will hope Nunez can do something similar.

The signs certainly look good. The two biggest games he played last season were against Liverpool themselves, the two quarter-final ties in the Champions League.

The then Benfica man scored the home side’s only goal in a 3-1 first-leg defeat and then netted eight minutes from time to give the Portuguese a 3-3 draw at Anfield. He had two other goals ruled out that night.

That 82nd-minute goal at Anfield is worth returning to. Why? In those six draws against City, Chelsea and Spurs, Liverpool never scored later than the 76th-minute.

Could Nunez be the man – like Kane – who finds those late winners in big games when everything is on the line?

Well, there’s more evidence. Benfica weren’t fancied to win the second leg of their last 16 Champions League clash with Ajax.

But who popped up in the 77th minute with the game locked at 0-0 to net the decisive goal? Yep, Darwin Nunez.

Key fixtures where Nunez can be gamechanger

So when the Premier League fixtures were released on Thursday, it would have been a smart move for Klopp and his staff to send Nunez a copy, with the matches against City, Chelsea and Spurs highlighted in yellow (Salah will take care of the Man Utd ones).

Liverpool need to solve glaring problem after Nunez deal

Liverpool have bolstered their front line with Darwin Nunez, but midfield is another urgent priority for Jurgen Klopp to sort out.

Because, in a title race decided by such fine margins, those are the games when Nunez can repay significant instalments of his hefty £85m fee.

Here they are:

17th September – Chelsea (away)

15th October – Man City (home)

5th November – Tottenham (away)

21st January – Chelsea (home)

1st April – Man City (away)

29th April – Tottenham (home)

That’s an even spread with three games before the winter World Cup and three after the Qatar showpiece.

Nunez’s Uruguay, incidentally, are in the same group as Portugal, Ghana and South Korea.

When Klopp got his man, the Reds boss said of the striker who scored 34 goals in 41 games for Benfica last season: “He plays without fear, he’s powerful, I know he will excite our supporters.”

Nunez will certainly do that; especially if he can work his goalscoring magic in Liverpool’s biggest games.