Darwin Nunez gives Jurgen Klopp the full package in Liverpool’s new era of unpredictability

Darwin Nunez is set to lead the line for Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp watched Darwin Nunez scoring home and away against Liverpool last season and liked when he saw. When he looked him in the eye, he liked it even more. The Uruguayan could become Liverpool’s record signing. He already feels a typical one, with many of the hallmarks of a normal Klopp deal: sealed quickly and early in a window, often to the frustration of a rival suitor – Manchester United in this case – and with the sense the player has a marked preference for Anfield.

“His determination to join us was obvious,” Klopp said. “That was really cool to see. That is the first thing you need to know. Obviously, he was our first choice and I prefer us being his first choice as well and that was exactly what was clear and I really like that.”

To be a true Klopp signing, of course, Nunez has to succeed. Liverpool have boasted a very high strike rate in the transfer market in recent years; Nunez’s predecessor, Sadio Mane, set the ball rolling in that respect. Klopp’s explanation for their excellence was that their purchasing is targeted. It is not scattergun spending, not influenced by the sight of an auction. Liverpool have tended to eschew established superstars. Sometimes theirs are not the popular choices. Albeit unintentionally, Klopp’s words served as an indictment of United.

“We know exactly what we need and exactly what we want, we don’t shoot [for] a player out there and go for [him] just because other teams want him,” he said. “We have our clear ideas.” The Porto alumni on Klopp’s coaching staff, Pep Lijnders and Vitor Matos watched Nunez’s every game but his performances for Benfica against Liverpool in the Champions League were catalytic displays that lent clarity of thought. “We have to intensify our efforts,” Klopp realised.

“In the last few years you have to say more often than not we got the player we wanted and that’s the truth as well. They were not always first picks or choices [for everyone else] and sometimes [people] say: ‘Why him?’ I think with Darwin it was kind of clear and everyone agrees he is a pretty good striker but it’s just how we do it. We don’t go for the fancy stuff. We want to go for the right stuff for us because of one part of the quality and the other is character.”

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Klopp’s definition of character was instructive: it entails fervent pressing and a willingness to buy into a collective work ethic. If there are certain high-profile forwards who would not qualify, Nunez does. “The character has to fit our way of playing,” the German explained. “For offensive players, it’s pretty cool if you win the ball back up high and you don’t have to run back 80 yards and try to catch the ball and then 80 yards in the other direction.”

Nunez arrives with certain common denominators with the departed Mane. Yet if they can operate in similar areas, it is from a different starting point. “He’s a No. 9 who can play on the wing,” Klopp said. “If you compare with Sadio, he was a winger who could play in the No. 9 [role], since last year, so that’s the difference.”

It makes Nunez less a plug-and-play replacement than part of the evolution of Klopp’s attack. The manager is savouring a new era of unpredictability, along with an early-season opportunity to sow confusion in the minds of opponents who are unsure which three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz and Nunez will start.

The message is that no one is guaranteed a place. “It will be really interesting,” Klopp said. “We had two or three or four years where it was always clear before the pre-season we start up front with Sadio, Bobby and Mo. Now the door is open for pretty much everybody. That will make us completely difficult to analyse. That is what we have to use.”

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Liverpool’s last arrival from Portugal slotted in slickly. Diaz’s immediate impact prompts hopes Nunez will have a similar start. The key, Klopp thinks, is continuity in terms of his role. “The reason with Luis, the way he played at Porto was the way we wanted him to play here so it was not that we give him the script book and said: ‘Have a look at that.’ We just let him play and then just adjust here and there a little bit,” Klopp said.

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“That is pretty much how it is with Darwin. We don’t want to change Darwin in a week or two or three. Do I want that Darwin plays like Bobby Firmino in the same position? No, not at all. It makes no sense. We are talking about a false nine and a No. 9.”

Firmino remains the false nine, but Liverpool have had a tendency to unearth the genuine article in the transfer market. Following in Mane’s footsteps and a tradition of fine signings, Nunez has looked Klopp in the eye. Now he has to look a Klopp player.

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