On the same day that Premier League champions Manchester City confirmed the signing of Erling Haaland, Liverpool’s own big early move of the summer transfer window was also announced as Benfica reached an agreement with the Reds over a deal for striker Darwin Nunez.
In a statement posted on the club’s official website early on Monday morning, the Portuguese giants announced the deal will be initially worth €75 million (£64m, $78.5m) though that fee could rise to as much as €100m should certain performance-based clauses be triggered further down the line.
Nunez, 22, is now set to sign a long-term contract at Anfield ahead of his transfer becoming rubber-stamped on the first day of July. The Uruguay international may also go on to become the Reds’ all-time record signing should his fee eventually eclipse the £75m paid to bring in Virgil van Dijk from Southampton in 2018.
The announcement comes in the wake of a breakthrough 2021-22 season in which Nunez hit new heights by scoring 34 goals in just 41 appearances for Benfica in all competitions. However, he ended the campaign with just a Taca da Liga runner-up medal to show for his efforts.
Having only scored 13 goals in 43 games the previous season, when he first joined Benfica from Almeria in the Spanish second tier, Nunez made such a mark last term that he was named the most valuable player playing outside Europe’s top five leagues last month by the CIES Football Observatory.
Here are the stats from Nunez’s amazing breakout year that convinced Liverpool he is the right player to help last season’s Premier League and Champions League runners-up to go one better, both at home and abroad, next term.
– O’Hanlon: Why Liverpool want Nunez (E+)
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Breaking down Nunez’s breakout year
Overall, Nunez has scored 47 goals in 84 games in his two seasons at Benfica. That’s a perfectly respectable return for a striker, but it is dragged down somewhat by his output in his first year in Lisbon. However, in his debut season on the European stage he showed what he can do by scoring a glut of goals in the Europa League.
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) June 8, 2022
Primeira Liga: 5 goals in 28 appearances
Europa League: 5 in 7
Taca de Portugal: 3 in 4
Taca de Liga: 0 of 2
Nunez’s output dramatically increased in 2021-22 as he fired Benfica into the knockout phase of the Champions League.
Primeira Liga: 26 in 28
Champions League: 6 in 10
Taca de Portugal: 0 of 2
Taca de Liga: 2 in 1
🇺🇾 𝗗𝗮𝗿𝘄𝗶𝗻 𝗡úñ𝗲𝘇, 22 anos 🔴🦅
— UEFA.com em português (@UEFAcom_pt) April 9, 2022
In the league alone in 2021-22, Nunez scored multiple goals in a game on eight occasions — five braces and three hat tricks. He also scored twice in one game against Barcelona in the group stage of the Champions League, a 3-0 win at the Estadio da Luz that ultimately saw Benfica qualify out of the group at Barca’s expense.
Along with Barca, this past Champions League campaign saw Nunez find the net against some of the biggest clubs in Europe. He also scored goals against Bayern Munich, Ajax and Liverpool (twice, home and away) during Benfica’s impressive run to the quarterfinals, when they were eliminated by Jurgen Klopp’s side 6-4 on aggregate.
What the stats say about his style of play
Nunez is predominantly a right-footed player but he mainly operates on the left side of the field, scampering inside from the wing and letting rip with his stronger foot.
In two seasons at Benfica, the striker scored 32 right-footed goals for Benfica in all competitions, nine of them match-winners and six of them penalties. Only six of his goals came via his left foot, with nine scored with headers.
He attempts a relatively high amount of shots per game, with 102 efforts in 38 games split between the Primeira Liga and Champions League last season. Of those, only 51 were on target, a rate of precisely 50%).
However, while those numbers might suggest that he needs plenty of chances to score and so peppers the goal in haphazard fashion, Nunez still managed to comfortably outperform his Expected Goals tally. Last season he scored 26 goals from an xG rating of 18.63 in the Primeira Liga, and six goals from an xG rating of 3.11 in the Champions League. In short, he may take a lot of shots from all around the penalty area, but he certainly has a knack of converting the more difficult chances and the tenacity to keep looking for opportunities.
Nunez’s passing and creativity are the biggest areas of improvement that will be demanded of him at Liverpool. Last season, he only registered four assists (from 30 chances created) in the Primeira Liga and none (from five) in the Champions League. Over the course of last season in the league and in Europe combined, there was only one area of the pitch where he achieved a pass completion of more than 75%.
However, for a striker, he also tracks back willingly and makes a lot of ball recoveries, a combined total of 80 in the league and Champions League in 2021-22. That level of energy and commitment is a hallmark of Klopp’s high-intensity approach and has been born out on the field by Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino over the past few years.
Salah, though, turns 30 this month, while Mane and Firmino have already reached that age and each of them have just one year remaining on their contract. Salah has stated publicly he will remain at Anfield for next season. But Firmino has lost his status as an automatic starter and Mane — who plays on the left side of Liverpool’s attack — wants to leave, with sources telling ESPN’s Mark Ogden that Liverpool have rejected two bids from Bayern Munich for the Senegal international.
With Portugal international Diogo Jota providing more than a high-quality alternative since joining from Wolves in the summer of 2020 and January signing Luis Diaz fitting right into the side upon arriving from Porto in January (to the point where he started in the Champions League final five months later), Nunez will be the third forward with connections to the Portuguese league to come to Anfield and replenish Liverpool’s attacking options.
Something tells us he’s going to fit right in at Liverpool.
🇺🇾 This is what Darwin Núñez is all about…
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) April 22, 2022
The scout’s view
Here’s what former scout and sporting director Tor-Kristian Karlsen, makes of Nunez:
A €24m signing from Almeria in 2020, the 6-foot-2 striker is still a bit rough around the edges and his passing can be sloppy, but it’s his continuous development and unconventional technique that makes him exceptionally exciting.
His choice of positioning in the build-up phase is sometimes unorthodox — he often disconnects with the rest of the team to do his own thing — but he can score from a wide variety of positions.
With his acceleration, excellent balance and command of his body in one-on-one situations, he’s a master of capitalizing in the transitional phase when the ball has just been regained and comes properly to life when facing goal. He’s at his best when the game opens up and he has a chance to make quick, sharp early movements across the opposing defensive line.