Darwin Nunez has packed a lot into his short Liverpool career. Goals, misses, a red card for violent conduct. And that was just the first two games. Where he goes, the action usually follows.
His performances this season have been brilliant at times and baffling at others but always captivating. Nunez, explosively athletic and thrillingly unpredictable, is Liverpool’s agent of chaos.
In full flow, it can be difficult to take your eyes off him.
In a quiet corner of Liverpool’s training ground, however, during an interview with Sky Sports to preview Saturday’s Premier League game against Wolves, it is his humility which shines through.
The 23-year-old, an £85m signing from Benfica in June, speaks candidly about the ups and downs of his start to life at the club, smiling broadly and laughing boyishly between his answers.
“Difficult” is the word he uses to describe the first few months, a period interrupted by the suspension that followed his sending off against Crystal Palace, for a headbutt on Joachim Andersen, as he was trying to adapt to the demands of the Premier League .
Nunez had been warned about what to expect. But he arrived at Liverpool on a high, the club’s record signing after a stunning, 34-goal season in Portugal. He admits the step up surprised him.
“It’s a very big change,” Nunez tells Sky Sports. “Here, the league is stronger, more competitive. I didn’t expect it to be so strong. Nico Otamendi [the former Manchester City defender and his team-mate at Benfica] told me that, but I still didn’t expect it.
“It has impressed me a lot. There are no bad teams. They are all in this league for a reason. The football is more difficult than in Portugal and more competitive. You don’t get much time.”
He is not the only one who has found it tough going. This has been a tumultuous season for Jurgen Klopp’s side on all fronts.
But Nunez has settled in now and adapted to the football – “and the weather,” he smiles – with the help of a supportive dressing room and its Spanish-speaking contingent in particular.
“I think after those first few months of adaptation, things began improving. I feel at home. I feel happy. When I come in, I look forward to training because, luckily, I have people here who speak Spanish.
“They have supported me really well and they are still supporting me today. That’s what we are here to do. We are a team. If we can help each other, that’s a good thing.
“My team-mates who speak Spanish are always translating because I still don’t understand a lot of things,” he smiles again.
“But watch out, because I am taking English classes. I hope that, in a year and a half, minimum, I will be able to understand everything.”
Nunez picks out Thiago Alcantara, Alisson Becker and Fabinho as the team-mates he has leaned on most. “They are always giving me advice and they are always there to help with whatever I need.”
And there has been support from the manager too – albeit communicated through Pep Lijnders, the Spanish-speaking assistant whose role in navigating the language barrier has been a crucial one.
“He doesn’t speak Spanish and I don’t speak English, so we don’t understand each other, but ever since I arrived at Liverpool, he has always given me confidence,” Nunez says of Klopp.
He has done that, in part, by steadfastly defending Nunez’s performances during his more difficult periods of the season, instead talking up the “incredible” potential he is working to unlock.
That potential can be seen in the sheer volume of chances that fall his way.
Nunez’s total of 10 goals in all competitions should be higher, undoubtedly. His finishing has been erratic. But his numbers for shots, expected goals and touches in the opposition box suggest it is only a matter of time until the floodgates open.
Nunez, like Klopp, is determined to make sure of it.
“I think he wants to see what he saw in Benfica,” he says of Klopp, “for example in the games I played against Liverpool [in the Champions League last season]when I performed very well.
“I don’t think I’m playing well at the moment, but I always want to improve. I try to improve every day.
“Klopp knows my strength is my speed, running into space. Also, he tells me that I need to be more calm when I’m playing, and that I need to move more. He tells me that I need that, and that I am a player with a lot of quality. So, that’s more or less what he wants from me – and, of course, that I score goals.”
Nunez utters the last line with a chuckle but the message from Klopp is that the goals will only flow when he finds the composure to match his outstanding physical and technical qualities.
“He has told me that I have to be calm in games when it comes to finishing,” he says. “He wants me to take a second longer, because if I shoot with anger, or I rush it, then it will always go badly. He asks me to take an extra second, with calmness, and I will score.”
Nunez points out he is not the first Uruguayan striker to make a slow start at Liverpool. It took Luis Suarez a season and a half to really hit his stride. When he did, the results were spectacular.
“It is a case of adapting,” says Nunez. “Adapting is important – and not only here at the club. Things have to be good on the football side, but also with your family, because if your family is OK, then you will always be OK. My family and I are good.
“Obviously, I still have many things to work on, for example my finishing. But I think the same thing is happening to me as happened to Suarez. In his second year, he tore it up.
“Something similar happened to me already at Benfica. The first year went very badly for me and in the second, I exploded.
“Here, I think the same thing is happening. I hope next season will be like that. I’ll put my best forward and hopefully I’ll get a bit of luck.
That luck has eluded Nunez so far.
He has told me that I have to be calm when it comes to finishing. He wants me to take a second longer, because if I shoot with anger, or I rush it, then it will always go badly
He has missed more big chances than anyone else in the Premier League this season but it is worth noting he has been denied by the woodwork more times too.
The margins are slender, so it helps to be able to count on the support of an international team-mate who has been through it all himself. Nunez received a call from Suarez after his red card against Palace and the pair have been in regular contact ever since.
“Of course, it’s always helpful to speak with Suarez,” says Nunez.
“For me, he is an idol. He is a great example. In the national team, I now have a much better relationship with him.
“We are always talking and he is always giving me advice. I always try to keep in touch with him. I ask him a lot of things because he was at this club and he has a lot more experience than me. He is an important player to give me advice and explain things to me.”
Nunez seems relaxed about the situation. His average of 5.59 shots per 90 minutes is, after all, one of the highest in Premier League history, behind only Daniel Sturridge, Thierry Henry, Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney. The bigger worry would be if the chances weren’t coming at all.
His numbers put him in esteemed company and, while the goals are yet to follow as consistently as he and Liverpool would like, and the rough edges to his game are still to be smoothed out, the raw figures for shots underline a rare ability to get into the right positions.
Is that something he has trained, or is it pure instinct?
“I think it depends on the player, but it also has to do with the team-mates you have around you,” answers Nunez. “Here, I have team-mates who have a lot of quality in terms of their play.
“But I still need to understand them a little bit more, and the other way around too. I have to adapt to their play, and they have to adapt to mine. I think, with time, we’ll see positive results.”
What’s crucial is that Nunez is working tirelessly to make it happen.
Klopp has praised his work ethic – “he is a machine,” said the manager earlier this season – and it comes across in his response to finding himself on the bench in Liverpool’s last four games.
“I believe, as a player, you have to use that as motivation,” he says. “You can get angry, but you have to get angry with yourself and say, ‘OK, tomorrow at training, I’m going to train twice as hard’, do you know?
“You have to take it like that because, if it gets to your head, things are obviously going to go badly. You have to say, ‘I’m going to train hard and I’m going to do things well because I want to win my place and I want to play’. That’s how it is.”
It remains to be seen whether he will return to the team for Saturday’s trip to Wolves, where Liverpool will be aiming to end a three-game winless streak in the Premier League. But whenever his opportunity comes, be it from the start or from the bench, you can be sure the action is likely to follow.
Follow Wolves vs Liverpool live on Sky Sports’ digital platforms on Saturday; kick-off 3pm.