Connor’s Corner: Darwin Núñez 

Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez celebrates after scoring his sides first goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St. James’ Park, in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, Sunday Aug. 27, 2023. Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA via AP

Hello and welcome back to Connor’s Corner, a column where I discuss a standout performance in professional sports and that player’s journey from high school to the professional level. Following an exciting week of the English Premier League, one player had the performance of a lifetime, giving his team life when there wasn’t a heartbeat, playing whatever minutes he got in stride and emerging as an undervalued asset for his club. That player is none other than Liverpool’s Darwin Núñez.  

Last Sunday started off a little rainy in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, and it looked early on that a storm was brewing; however, the only storm St. James’ Park saw Sunday afternoon was from the right foot of the 24-year-old Uruguayan. Despite Núñez’s success, the same cannot be said for his club, as Liverpool looked sloppy for all 90 minutes. The Reds’ sloppiness came back to bite them in the 25th minute, as Trent Alexander-Arnold watched a routine pass go right by him, giving Newcastle’s Anthony Gordon an easy goal, which the keeper had no chance to save and, more importantly, the 1-0 advantage. Liverpool’s woes continued as Virgil van Dijk controversially received the red card for a foul that denied a goal-scoring opportunity three minutes later. Because Van Dijk was issued the red card, not only was he ejected from the game, but this also meant that Liverpool would be down to 10 players for the remainder of the match. Due to the severity of a red card, Liverpool had few offensive opportunities and failed to come close to scoring at all for the first 45 minutes. The second half was the same story, with Liverpool struggling to generate any offense until the 77th minute, where the 24-year-old forward subbed in for Alexis Mac Allister and, from there, took control. It only took the Uruguayan four minutes to make his impact felt, thanks to a deflected pass that landed past the defender, into the penalty box and into the back of the net. After leveling the contest, there were scoring opportunities for both clubs to take the lead and put immense pressure on their opponent. Liverpool called Núñez’s number once again, this time in the 93rd minute. Mohamed Salah catalyzed the goal with a perfectly led pass, and Núñez gained a step on the defender as Dan Burn hesitated, seemingly looking for an offsides call. Núñez timed his run perfectly and created the space needed to smash in his second goal from the same spot as the first. Núñez’s goal in the dying embers proved to be the nail in the coffin for Newcastle, as four minutes later, the match ended 2-1.  

Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez celebrates after scoring his sides first goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St. James’ Park, in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, Sunday Aug. 27, 2023. Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA via AP.

As unbelievable as it may sound, the Uruguayan’s football career started at 16, when he inked a deal with CA Peñarol’s Youth club; no statistics are available to see his performance. Despite not being able to see his performance in the youth club, you can infer he played well as he joined Peñarol’s pro club in 2017. Núñez didn’t accumulate significant stats in his freshman campaign, as he only logged 28 minutes. Unfortunately, for Núñez’s sake, he never found much success with the Uruguayan club, so Peñarol sold him to UD Almería for 15.25 million euros. UD Almería relished in Núñez’s success immediately, having him log a career-high 2,424 minutes, 16 goals and two assists. Due to his success early on, the Portuguese club SL Benfica paid 34 million euros for Núñez, and similarly, he thrived with them. In 2022, Núñez joined Liverpool for the hefty price of 80 million euros, and ever since, he has been solid despite not starting.  

An intriguing storyline with this Liverpool squad is what they will do with their No. 9 spot. Currently, Cody Gakpo has taken over reigns in that department; competing with Gakpo are Diogo Jota and Núñez. This position battle is one of the most competitive in all of sports, with Liverpool’s manager, Jürgen Klopp, adding, “The ticket into the team will be the readiness to defend…I’ve never heard about a team being really successful with sloppy defending. It doesn’t happen.” Despite a preseason filled with goal-scoring and playmaking, it seems as though Núñez will need to grind to get the starting nod at Anfield. This performance highlights his high level of finishing, and the rest of the Premier League is on notice. Match commentator Peter Drury described Núñez’s abilities after his second goal, saying, “That is a hundred million dollar finish.” 

Liverpool came into their contest against Newcastle United 1-1-0, with sights set on qualifying for the Champions League this season, following an offseason in which The Reds faced severe criticism, as they narrowly missed the Champions League by four points. While much can happen from now to May, last Sunday was a good start for Liverpool, as this win puts Liverpool fourth on the table. Sunday was also a positive for Anfield. If you are looking to be at the top of the table, you need to overcome adversity and, hardest of all, steal games from the clutches of defeat. Liverpool should have lost this match, not only being down 1-0 late but also having a one man disadvantage from the 28th minute onward. If Liverpool can lean on unsung heroes like Núñez, and never count themselves out, it’s hard to see many Premier League clubs stop them. 

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