Gary Neville had better not try and change Darwin Nunez. He is the imperfect Liverpool striker and the most entertaining thing in the sport.
A phenomenal pundit though he is, Gary Neville is sorely mistaken with regards to Darwin Nunez.
“He’s just a little frantic and raw when he plays, he’s just got to slow himself down a little bit in the final third and be a bit more composed,” said the Sky Sports pundit after a frankly ludicrous cameo from the striker against Manchester City.
Nunez played just 19 minutes yet no Liverpool player had more shots, only Diogo Jota was fouled more often and no player for either team was caught offside on more occasions. He turned a three-on-one counter-attack into a blocked effort and clipped one finish over Ederson yet simultaneously about six yards in front of the net.
Quite why you’d want Nunez to “slow himself down a little bit” and “be a bit more composed” on that showing is a mystery because it was entertainment in its purest, most gripping form.
And on the basis of his performance against West Ham, this is Nunez’s only option. It’s not that he’s all or nothing, neutral or fifth gear. It’s that there is no middle ground. No grey area. Only mayhem and pandemonium. The one variable is whether it pays off or not.
It often didn’t on Wednesday night. An early two-on-two attack fell by the wayside; the puzzle as to what weighting of defenders versus attackers actually benefits Nunez remains unsolved. But then on the quarter-hour mark he evaded his markers and attracted a phenomenal ball from Thiago, letting it bounce once before hammering a first-time shot from wide on the left that required sublime intervention from Lukasz Fabianski.
That was one of the rare situations that genuinely suit his style of finishing. While some go for placement, others favour force and plenty more try a combination of the two depending on circumstance, Nunez again has only one recourse. The best way to describe it is the Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge approach – or more specifically, ‘YOU HAVE ENTERED POWER DRIVE’.
A dropping ball on the run and a backpedalling keeper? Probably fair enough to put your laces through it. An opportunity later on to fire accurately across the keeper and into the far side of the net? Maybe don’t hammer it straight at him. A chance to shoot on the bounce after some good chest control? Sure, smash it with your weak foot against the post. But when the rebound comes straight back to you, it might be an idea to take a touch and a moment to steady yourself instead of trying to channel Paolo Di Canio against Wimbledon.
The secret might be to remove his motor-powered feet from the equation. His winner was a gloriously directed header into the ground and towards Fabianski’s far side after great movement to meet Kostas Tsimikas’ cross. A cool, delicate, intelligent and ultimately far more boring centre-forward exists within the tornado of madness. Hopefully he is deep enough within for us to get the uncut version considerably more often than not.
Before the first half was out, Nunez could be seen pitching in at left-back to ostensibly help out, although it should be noted it created further chaos in a Liverpool defence which stumbled to a second successive clean sheet. West Ham had presentable chances before and after Jarrod Bowen’s penalty miss but the David Moyes Anfield curse should never be underestimated.
By the 57th minute, Nunez was gone and the game was a lesser spectacle for it. A few moments earlier he was put through on goal one last time and was unlucky to see his dainty, intricate and well thought out finish saved.
Only joking. He absolutely sodding leathered his shot well over and into the same stands that would salute him soon after.
The most expensive signing in Liverpool history has only started six of their 14 Premier and Champions League games so far this season, a staggered introduction only partially explained by the three-match ban served in August. Jurgen Klopp has sought to make Nunez’s transition gradual but can surely no longer resist the temptation to play him at every available opportunity. The Uruguayan has firmly established himself as an absolute must-pick. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection has been realised. And Gary Neville had better think again about trying to change him.