Darwin Nunez – The red hot Benfica striker aiming to follow in the footsteps of other lethal Uruguay attackers

Wanted by a whole host of Premier League clubs, Darwin Nunez is hoping he can replicate the careers of his fellow compatriots Edison Cavani and Luis Suarez – iconic strikers in their own right, Uruguay legends up top for their many teams.

Darwin Nunez has even been talked about by Diego Forlan, another Uruguayan legend who begged his former club Manchester United to take a look at the red hot SL Benfica striker. With Manchester United the front-runner at this moment in time to sign 22-year-old – Erik Ten Hag clearly wanting to make a statement signing upon his arrival to Old Trafford – it’ll be intriguing to see what club Nunez is playing for when the next season rolls around.

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Benfica’s number 9 has taken Portugal by storm this season, the in-form striker scoring 34 goals this season in only 41 appearances. He could well re-energise a stale Manchester United team in attack, a new and exciting focal point up top for Ten Hag’s men. Despite his lofty presence on the football pitch, Nunez coming in at 6ft 2ins, he isn’t just a standard target-man. The Benfica striker enjoys bursting through with pace, often showing off a bit of skill to advance past his opponent – a tricky proposition for Primera Liga defenders to deal with, an unpredictable threat up top Nelson Verissimo’s men. He has been the bright spark for The Eagles this campaign, a campaign which has seen Benfica fall short of Sporting CP and Porto occupying the top two in the division.

Miles off their rivals in terms of points, Darwin Nunez has ensured The Eagles remain in the spotlight with his performances this season – arguably the most demand player in Europe at this present moment in time, a real joy for Benfica fans to witness in a poor campaign otherwise. He has also turned provider this season for The Eagles multiple times, assisting four times in league action – Nunez unselfish when a Benfica teammate has a better chance of scoring, putting it on a plate for a teammate to score instead of the chance going to waste.

Still, the nine-time Uruguay international has become a lethal finisher for his team this campaign – a goal-shy first season in Portugal now in the past, Darwin Nunez a born finisher now for Benfica. A lot of his strikes are instinctive, poacher-like finishes, finishing off a move at risk of fizzling out by tapping it in or rifling it past the hapless opposition goalkeeper. He also uses his height advantage to score a number of headed goals, a reliable man to have in the box when a cross is floated in – Nunez is a well-rounded striker, a striker comfortable with all aspects of being a front-man whether that’s relying on scraps or having to make a goal entirely of his own working. An opening goal against fierce rivals Sporting CP recently showcases all the attributes that make Nunez such a handful for defenders in Portugal, a long-ball over the top perfect for a physical striker but also ideal for a man who is known for his burst of pace. Moreover, with his confidence sky-high, Nunez knows he can bury most chances – looping it over the keeper’s head before the ball dropped, an excellent finish.

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Benfica’s number 9 hasn’t only shown off his natural goal-scoring ability in the Primeira Liga, his performances in the Champions League this season alerting the bigger clubs of his presence. Barely three minutes into Benfica’s group-stage clash with Barcelona this season, Nunez would score the opening goal of the contest – another long ball finding Nunez in the channels, before trickery and skill would see the Uruguayan advance into the box and catch Ter Stegen off-guard with a clever finish into the bottom corner. A confident penalty late on would see Nunez finish the game with a double, Benfica humbling Barcelona 3-0 on the night.

Six goals from ten Champions League appearances stands out for the former Almeria man, his presence in both ties against Liverpool in the quarter finals seriously worrying Jurgen Klopp’s men. His pace and skill alone ensured Virgil Van Dijk didn’t have an easy night in the first leg, alongside his brute ability at winning headers seeing Nunez tower over Konate. He would even score on the night to give Benfica a fighting chance, indecisive defending from Konate in failing to clear the ball gave Nunez a golden opportunity – the ball falling kindly at his feet, curling a strike past Allisson with confidence. In the end, a former Primeira Liga product in Luis Diaz would kill the contest at 3-1.

Benfica would give Liverpool an almighty scare in the second leg however, drawing 3-3 at Anfield after the tie looked out of reach for The Eagles. Yet, through Goncalo Ramos and Roman Yaremchuk, Benfica had a fighting chance – Ramos equalising, Yaremchuk scoring ensured the game was competitive still after a quick-fire Firmino double for Klopp’s Reds. Another over-the-top ball allowed Nunez to get Benfica’s third at Anfield, a trademark move now for Benfica with Nunez racing through. A calm and composed finish from Nunez, delicately placing it past Allisson, showcases the confidence he possesses at this moment in time – everything he seemingly touches turns to gold, goal after goal for his Lisbon-based club.

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With the likes of Edison Cavani, Luiz Suarez and Diego Forlan all excelling in big European moves, it looks as if Nunez is another on this production line of clinical strikers from South America and specifically Uruguay. Most of Nunez’s interest comes from the Premier League, Liverpool sniffing around unsurprisingly after Nunez’s recent goals against The Reds. Moreover, with Luis Diaz proving to be a big hit, Jurgen Klopp might well fancy another signing from the pool of players available to him from Portugal. Other clubs declaring an interest in the forwarrd are Arsenal and Newcastle, Mikel Arteta wanting to add another exciting youngster to the Gunners attack whilst Eddie Howe might well want to flex Newcastle’s newly acquired wealth by purchasing a high in demand striker for The Toon.

But, with a new manager arriving at Old Trafford with fresh and new ideas, Darwin Nunez could well be the main striker Erik Ten Hag wants to rebuild Manchester United away from their recent woes. Funnily enough, this could signal the departure of Edison Cavani – a veteran of the game from Uruguay – for a younger model in the 22-year-old also from Uruguay in Darwin Nunez. Wherever Nunez ends up, there’s no doubt next season will see the young South American embark on a new challenge – moving away from the comforts of Portugal, on a mission to be the next icon from Uruguay with a lasting legacy.

The Author

Kelan Sarson

Peterborough United supporter, football writer + current MA Journalism student at the Uni of Sheffield. Twitter account for football writing - @sarsonkelan

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