The evolution of Liverpool’s front line continues.
It began with the £45m addition of Diogo Jota in 2020. Next was Luis Diaz at £49m last January. Now it is Darwin Nunez, the club’s most expensive ever signing at £85m from Benfica.
Jurgen Klopp is overseeing a process of renewal in attack. His early successes came with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane either side of Roberto Firmino, but all three players, aged 30, 30 and 29 respectively, could conceivably be gone by next summer.
Mane is expected to be first to depart as his move to Bayern Munich draws closer, while Firmino, like Salah, is entering the final year of his contract. Liverpool supporters still hope to see Salah sign a new deal but Firmino’s days are surely numbered.
The players charged with taking on the mantle are on average six years younger and, as happened with Salah, Mane and Firmino, Liverpool will hope they will hit their peaks while at Anfield.
The trio’s relative youthfulness – Jota and Diaz are 25 while Nunez is 22 – changes the age profile of the Liverpool squad but Nunez is unique among them in the sense that his attributes could also allow Klopp’s side to diversify the way in which they play.
Nunez is a modern No 9 who stands at 6ft 1ins, with an imposing frame which marks him out from Liverpool’s other forwards.
It is what caught the eye of Klopp, who marvelled at his physical strength after watching his “tough battles” up against Ibrahima Konate during last season’s Champions League.
Nunez showed his goal threat across those two games against Liverpool, scoring in each of them and attempting more shots (six) than any of his Benfica team-mates, while there was also evidence of qualities that will add a different dimension to Klopp’s attack.
Nobody won more than his six successful aerials, while only one player, Benfica full-back Gilberto, won more duels in general (15). “Very direct, quick, tall and strong,” was Virgil van Dijk’s glowing verdict. “Quite difficult to play against,” he added.
Klopp, like Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, has never previously been able to call on a player in the mould of Nunez during his time in the Premier League but, like Erling Haaland at City, the Uruguayan will provide a focal point at the tip of his attack.
Nunez’s link-up play is an area of his game which requires improvement – he completed only 57 per cent of his passes in the Champions League last season – but his physical stature makes him an effective outlet for long passes.
That is sure to be useful to Liverpool.