Darwin Nuñez arrived at Liverpool with some rough edges, and an early red card ban didn’t help the narrative surrounding Liverpool’s record signing. In amongst the noise, though, were the numbers. Expected goals, clear cut chances, shot generation.
By any reasonable metric, Darwin was elite at doing the things around the box you buy a striker to do. It wasn’t a small sample size mirage, either, but rather a continuation of what the young Uruguayan had consistently done at Benfica. From the start, those numbers spoke to why Liverpool signed the 23-year-old.
Now, the rest of his game appears to have caught up as he continues to adjust to a new and more demanding team in a new and more demanding league, and anyone now betting against him becoming one of the game’s very best would get some very long odds.
“He has all the qualities for a modern-day striker,” said centre half Virgil van Dijk, who gets to face off against Darwin every day in training. “That is the reason why we bought him. He is learning how we want to play, he is learning what we expect from him. He plays a little bit on the left but also has a free role to come into the middle.
“It takes time. It is a new team, new environment, new country, new language so it is absolutely normal for him to take a little bit more time, but there is no doubt the qualities are there. We never doubted his quality and I think he’s done very well.”
Darwin now has nine goals and a pair of assists in 941 minutes, a goal involvement every 85 minutes he’s on the pitch. He has created 1.36 xG and xA per 90 in the league, just a hair behind Manchester City’s Erling Haaland with 1.37 per 90 and well ahead of Tottenham’s Harry Kane (0.95) and Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus (0.92).
Now, too, the rest of his game looks to be catching up. It’s no longer just the numbers that look good for Darwin—it’s his entire game. If before he looked like a player any respectable stats guru should have been backing, now the Uruguayan is passing the eye test as well.