LIVERPOOL have moved fast to replace the outgoing star Sadio Mane, before he has even left the club.
Mane is looking to leave, with Bayern Munich his most likely next club.
And Liverpool have already acted to recruit his replacement in £85million striker Darwin Nunez, the 22-year-old Uruguayan international from Benfica.
In reality, this day has been coming for at least the last 12 to 18 months.
The dynamic attacking trio that led Jurgen Klopp’s men to the Premier League title in the 2020 season of Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, are all getting older.
Liverpool have wasted no time in refreshing this area of the pitch with the signings of Diogo Jota from Wolves and Luis Diaz from Porto.
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How Benfica striker Darwin Nunez compares to Liverpool star Sadio Mane
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Now they have a third new arrival on the way, the dashing Nunez who scored a spectacular 34 goals in 41 games last season in Portugal.
It is understood that he will earn around £120,000-a-week at Liverpool after agreeing a six-year deal until 2028.
Here’s what he will bring to Anfield next season.
Acting as the focal point
A year ago, any discussion about replacing Mane at Liverpool would have involved looking at players who played mainly on the left-wing.
The situation changed though in the January transfer window when Liverpool moved to the Colombian international Diaz.
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The impact that Diaz had on the left-wing when he moved to England resulted in Mane being moved into a more central position in the attacking structure.
The use of Mane as a central option in the 4-3-3 brought something different to Liverpool as he displayed the willingness to drop into deeper areas, in the same way that Firmino does.
But he also provides a threat in terms of playing on the shoulder of the defender and looking for opportunities to break behind the defensive line to attack space.
Nunez is an interesting option because positionally he is actually the reverse of Mane — in that he is a central striker who is also capable of playing from the left-hand side.
His movement profile is similar in that he likes to drop into the left channel or deep to receive the ball but he also has the ability to attack the space behind the defensive line.
As a striker who is 6’2” tall, Nunez provides a significant physical threat and he has the aggression and work ethic that we would associate with a certain other Uruguayan forward who played for Liverpool in the recent past.
When playing as the fixed striker he has the physical profile of size, pace and acceleration that allows him to play effectively on the shoulder of the defender and to offer his side a focal point in the attacking phase.
For Liverpool going into next season, this is likely to be an important role.
With width coming on the left from Diaz and Salah coming inside to threaten centrally from the right they need to have a striker with Nunez’s profile to occupy defenders and provide a variety of threatening movements.
Strength in the air
If there is one thing that the Liverpool front line has been missing in recent seasons it is strength in the air.
While the likes of Mane and even Firmino showed some ability in terms of finishing headers neither could ever be described as a player who is anything approaching dominant in the air.
Nunez has real aggression when it comes to attacking the ball in the air.
He displays an interesting tendency in the penalty area which may go some way to explaining why the Uruguayan is of such interest to Liverpool in terms of fitting their tactical structure.
When playing centrally we see Nunez display good movement in the penalty area.
He is not static and despite his size and frame, he is quite elusive in terms of dropping away from the defender to find some space.
When doing so and with the ball in the wide areas he likes to pull away and position himself almost on top of the fullback on the far side of the area.
From these positions, he will attack the ball aggressively when it is played into the far post.
Given that Liverpool have one of the best crossers of the ball on their right-hand side, in Trent Alexander-Arnold, the movement profile of Nunez feels like an ideal fit.
The England international right-back will get on the ball in the right-hand channel and when he does so his delivery to the far post is consistently excellent.
The targeting of Nunez feels like a move from Liverpool to add something different to their attacking options and to bring a more consistent threat to take advantage of aerial duels in the opposition area.
Ability to link the attack
For all that Nunez has the physical and athletic profile to allow him to hold up the ball and threaten to run in behind the defensive line he also has the technical quality and ability to link the attack.
The Uruguayan forward provides an excellent focal point for the attack in that he can run behind the defensive line but he also looks to receive the ball with his back to goal in situations that require that.
He receives cleanly with a safe first touch and he has the technical quality to play off one or two touches in these areas to link the play.
Given that Liverpool tend to attack with Salah, in particular, looking to move inside to occupy central spaces, it is extremely important that the central striker is capable of taking the ball in and linking with other attacking players.
Nunez will drop off the front line at times to receive the ball but then he is aggressive in looking to take the ball and link and play through the final third and into the penalty area.
He will either look to break the final line with a pass or look for opportunities to play the pass and then make a run of his own that will break the last line.
Given the ability of Nunez to play different roles in the attack he is likely to be perfectly placed to combine with the other attacking players that Liverpool have at their disposal.
What will he bring to Liverpool and can he be as good as Diaz?
Nunez could give Liverpool more of a focal point in attack if Klopp wants to add a little variety to his attacking options next season.
That doesn’t mean he cannot link things up – he really, really can. But he can also add some aerial presence to the side in both boxes.
And, of course, he has the intelligent movement that is so important to playing up top for the Reds.
For more tactical analysis, scouting and stunning data visuals head over to Total Football Analysis
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