Such is the instantaneous nature of social media that a single innocuous incident can see a player written off as “fraud” or “out”.
It is up to each of us to determine the importance we attach to these individual comments. Maybe they’re joking, maybe they’re serious. But when you see thousands of likes or retweets on it, you get a picture of the extent of those snap judgments, and in that sense, it doesn’t matter if they were a joke or not.
That’s not to say we didn’t used to be like this, the difference is that many of us now have a point of sale at our fingertips that reaches thousands of people in seconds.
Darwin Nunez came for such pre-season treatment. In a meaningless friendly against Manchester United, the Uruguayan missed a great chance and quickly became the butt of teasing on social media.
Granted, he had recently been signed for a lot of money, but the hysteria – given that the game had nothing to envy – was remarkable. For what it’s worth, he scored four goals in one game nine days later.
Since then, a lot of columns have been devoted to Nunez, which is a bit fairer now that the season is in full swing.
One thing many agree on is that the striker seems like one of the most chaotic footballers out there, but that shouldn’t hide what he does well. He’s raw, but if you scratch the surface, the signs for Nunez and Liverpool are very promising.
Jurgen Klopp hit the nail on the head last week when talking about Nunez’s potential. In his eyes, the 23-year-old potentially has an ‘incredible’ ceiling, but he acknowledged there was still so much work for the striker to do that it was unclear how good he would become .
“Nobody knows, he doesn’t know. Nobody knows, there’s a lot [of potential] and it’s so exciting, but he has to stay fit, he has to be available all the time,” Klopp said. “It’s very important in the life of a professional football player. We have to work in all areas. Then the potential is incredible. It’s not just the speed, the attitude is really good, he’s a real hard worker.
“Again, I’m telling you – and I know there are people who think, ‘Technically, not sure, first touch…’ – it’s amazing. That he doesn’t bring it all the time on the pitch, the first touch can be here or there sometimes, has nothing to do with technique, it’s just a bit too late, awareness, orientation and all that kind of stuff, but anything is possible to grow and learn from, it’s really exciting, but where it can go, I have no idea.”
There would have always been Nunez scrutiny over the transfer fee, but would there have been so much if not for Erling Haaland’s ridiculous departure? Probably not, as they were brought in around the same time and both considered by many to be the so-called final pieces of the puzzle for their respective teams.
As recent months have shown, Haaland is a phenomenon, that’s not up for debate. But Nunez taking a bit longer to really settle in doesn’t make him any less promising than he was considered at Benfica.
In fact, you could say his output has exceeded expectations at this point.
“His numbers are incredible, to be absolutely honest,” Klopp also said of Nunez last week. “If you’re talking about xG [expected goals], I’m pretty sure his xG’s are pretty high as well. He had a few chances which he missed, but he also scored. He’s involved in a lot of finishing moments, a lot of things.”
Klopp is right here – the data strongly backs him up. While Nunez’s tally of three Premier League goals doesn’t sound like much, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he has already served a three-match ban for being sent off against Crystal Palace. His record of 0.6 goals per 90 minutes is only bettered by seven players.
With that in mind, Nunez’s 432 Premier League minutes are pretty low, but he managed to pack plenty of action into that limited time – hence the ‘chaotic’ assessment earlier.
He ranks in the top 10 for goals involvement per 90 minutes (0.8) and minutes per goal (144), but it’s in the shooting metrics where Nunez’s productivity really shines.
No one registers more attempts per 90 minutes than Nunez (6.7), while only Haaland (2.6) gets more shots on target than the Uruguay forward (2.5) in every game.
But perhaps crucially, and going back to Klopp’s point, his no-penalty xG (per 90) is 0.76, only slightly behind Haaland’s league-best 0.81.
Of course, the problem here is that Nunez doesn’t finish as many chances as one would expect given the quality of the openings, while Haaland has been exceptionally ruthless with his chances.
But it would be more worrying if he didn’t get a chance.
Nunez’s struggles could be down to a number of factors such as confidence, coping, the roles he is asked to play, maybe even a desperate need to impress, and that could explain some of his most erratic decision-making.
But it is expected that with time and composure, Nunez’s numbers will eventually level with his xG. On proof of his attributes so far, when they do, Liverpool will have an exceptional striker on their hands.