Now is the time to judge harshly-treated Darwin Nuñez

Darwin Nuñez found himself harshly treated among some Liverpool fans and beyond in his first season at Anfield, but a fair judgement can only be reached in the campaign ahead.

Remember those Nuñez vs. Erling Haaland conversations this time last year? Feels a long time ago now, doesn't it?

While the Manchester City strike ran amock in 2022/23, smashing goalscoring records and winning a treble, Liverpool's new signing experienced a far more up-and-down campaign.

It all started brightly for Nuñez when he scored in the Community Shield win over City — Haaland's inexplicable miss in that game proved to be an early curveball, unfortunately — but things quickly became tougher for him in no time.

A brainless sending-off against Crystal Palace on his Anfield debut was frankly disastrous, earning him an immediate three-match ban and affecting his rhythm from the off, and he never quite fully recovered as the weeks and months passed.

That's not to say that Nuñez didn't impress plenty in his first year as a Liverpool player, with 15 goals in 42 appearances a perfectly solid return, especially when you cater for the fact that he was often in a struggling team.

© Proshots - Darwin Nuñez

There were moments of brilliance to cherish, from that back-heeled gem against Real Madrid – it will surely become one of the great forgotten Reds goals — or a well-taken brace in the stunning 7-0 win at home to Manchester United, but too many performances were lacking.

The rawness to his game was much-documented, with his understanding of the system taking a while to adjust to, and his all-round link-up play not as crisp and decisive as Cody Gakpo's, with the Dutchman getting used to his new surroundings a lot quicker.

Come the spring months, Gakpo had firmly usurped his new teammate as the go-to option down the middle of Liverpool's attack, linking neatly with those around him and quickly looking like a strong signing.

All in all, it was an adequate first season for Nuñez, but it was certainly no worse than that.

Despite it being a mixed bag, there seemed to be a desperate attempt to overdo the criticism, with both Liverpool fans and especially rival supporters keen to lambast him at every opportunity.

Compilations of his misses were created, other fans compared to him to Andy Carroll and the general mood suggested that he was an absolute flop of a signing.

It's almost as though people forget how many great players have taken time to settle into the Premier League in the past, with Luis Suarez instantly springing to mind from a Liverpool perspective.

He is now possibly seen as the third-greatest player of his generation, behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but he wasn't close to that level in his first months on Merseyside.

The Premier League is a division that is faster and more physical than any across Europe, and it is never a surprise to see a new signing have to ease into life there, rather than hit the ground running.

Quite why Nuñez has been treated so differently to others is, therefore, a head-scratcher, and it is at least heartwarming to see a chunk of the Liverpool fanbase still love him and find themselves rooting for him at every turn.

This is a top-level footballer with an extremely high ceiling, and he could be about to wreak havoc.

The 23-year-old has returned for pre-season looking lean and hungry, not that he wasn't both of those things already, and he is now a part of a Liverpool squad that is being revamped and packed full of more youth and energy.

Confidence is also huge in football, and where it seemed lacking throughout most of last season, there is clearly a more buoyant feel around the club — a feeling that the Reds could challenge for the title again, following the signings of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai.

Nuñez clearly needs to find another gear of his own, but he heads into 2023/24 feeling so much more equipped to reach those expectation levels that existed when he arrived.

He has officially taken the number 9 shirt from the departed Roberto Firmino, which should immediately act as a psychological boost to him, and he should no longer be part of a side that looks ageing and tired.

Let's not forget that he was still Liverpool's second-top scorer in 2022/23, in all competitions, and only Salah (3.3) had more shots per game than him (2.9), showing that he still managed to consistently be in games and get into good positions.

None of this is to say that Nuñez will be a guaranteed starter next season, though. Far from it, in fact.

In Gakpo, the Reds have someone who looks the most likely to play a Firmino-esque role, subtly using the ball and acting as a selfless figure, while Mohamed Salah and Luis Diaz are favourites to be the starting wide players alongside him.

Nuñez is right in the mix, though, as is Diogo Jota — rotation will always happen across four competitions — and with the midfield supplying him with more creativity, thanks to Mac Allister and Szoboszlai coming in, he should benefit hugely from it.

That aforementioned rawness needs to be ironed out, with his finishing more erratic than ruthless last season, averaging just an 11.39% conversion rate per 90 minutes in the league. He could do with both learning the language more and becoming even more in-tune with Jurgen Klopp's style.

All the ingredients are there for the Uruguayan to tear up the Premier League second time around, however, whether it be his towering stature, searing pace or ability to constantly find himself at the heart of the action.

Even when both Nuñez and Liverpool played badly last term, Nuñez was a threat, so throwing him into a reformed side brimming with more belief and class means that Reds supporters could be about to witness something special next season and into the future.

Judge him properly this time next year.

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