In an increasingly regimented sport, Darwin Nunez is making the hearts of footballing romantics sing this season.
Watching top-level football, whether that be in the Premier League or Champions League, makes the casual watcher suspicious of the perfect androids wearing their club colours.
Passes ping to feet with bewildering speed. Runs are attempted that are worked upon religiously in the days preceding the game. Even goal celebrations are increasingly pre-planned in a wearying nod to TikTok’s influence on modern society.
But, on the red half of Merseyside, a refreshing alternative has emerged. Enter Darwin Nunez, the maddening Uruguayan who has captured the imagination with his commitment to playing to his own script.
Signed for a huge fee from Benfica this summer, we’re surprised that Nunez’s displays during his first months in England haven’t caused Jurgen Klopp to grind his expensive veneers into monkey dust.
Put him through on goal and the 23-year-old is capable of anything from burying the ball into the back of the net or into the cranium of an unsuspecting fan in Row Z.
Any Liverpool team-mate who passes the ball to Nunez along the floor is putting their life and reputation in the hands of the kind of chaos agent that comes along once in a generation.
Such was the case on this Boxing Day night in Birmingham, with Klopp’s Reds looking to kickstart their season against Aston Villa while the rest of the nation gorged itself on turkey sandwiches and melancholy.
With the game in its early stages, Liverpool were already beginning to toy with their craven opponents when the ball was worked out towards Andy Robertson on the left flank.
Nunez bounded into the penalty area in the manner of an excitable puppy; he was the obvious target for Robertson’s arrow-like delivery. Just out of shot, we’re presuming the Scotland international crossed himself in prayer as the ball zipped towards Darwin.
Most strikers would have gratefully taken the chance to open the scoring but Nunez has spent 2022-23 proving he’s no slave to convention.
Instead, the pony-tailed forward chose the most inopportune time to demonstrate his non-selfish side and dummied the ball into the path of a non-existent team-mate.
Metres away, thousands of Kopites buried heads in hands. Klopp’s immediate reaction wasn’t caught on camera but we’re imagining a creative fusion of Germanic swear words were floating through his mind.
But Liverpool were ahead less than a minute later, Mohamed Salah slotting home a fine finish. Perhaps our captain of chaos had flummoxed the Villa defence, two of which were injured defending his no-sense dummy, in a textbook example of 3D chess.
We wouldn’t put it past him.
The rest of Nunez’s performance was the usual mix of delight and disaster. He managed to miss a string of one-on-ones, including an attempt to replicate Robin van Persie’s career-defining strike against Aston Villa. He missed as many big chances (four) as he completed passes.
But he was in an irrepressible mood, setting up the third goal for Stefan Bajcetic by chasing down his own heavy touch and crossing the ball into the centre.
Andy Townsend, commentating on the game for Amazon Prime, was hypnotised sufficiently by Nunez to name him Man of the Match as Liverpool recorded a 3-1 victory.
In fairness, it was impossible to keep your eyes off him; he seems like a compelling mix of chaotic, imposing, energetic, occasionally brilliant, but mostly baffling that will just keep us coming back from more.
And his bewildering dummy underlined his unquestionable status as the chaos GOAT.
By Michael Lee
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