LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) – Liverpool’s Uruguay international Darwin Nunez has already had plenty of ups and downs since joining the club in the close season, but his manager Juergen Klopp remains happy with the progress the “exciting” striker is making.
Nunez was sent off for headbutting Joachim Andersen in his home debut against Crystal Palace in August before failing to score in his next five games in all competitions.
Four strikes in his last five matches, however, have started to silence the doubters who suggested the 23-year-old would not live up to the hype after his arrival from Benfica for an initial fee of 75 million euros ($74.79 million).
“Darwin came here after a short break, flew straight to Asia, didn’t speak English, new team, and the price – and then everyone judges straight away,” Klopp told a news conference on Friday on the eve of his side’s clash at home to Leeds United.
“He started well, scored against City (in the Community Shield) and Fulham, then got his red card. He was embarrassed. Confidence was knocked.
“Darwin is so exciting but he has to stay fit and be available all the time. We work on all different areas and the potential is incredible. Speed, attitude, a real worker, it’s all possible to develop and learn. It’s really exciting. It was a great month for him.”
While qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League was secured with a game to spare in midweek after victory at Ajax Amsterdam, Liverpool’s domestic form has not been as impressive.
A third defeat of the league season at Nottingham Forest last weekend leaves Liverpool eighth in the Premier League standings, 10 points behind champions Manchester City in second and 12 off leaders Arsenal – a gap Klopp is fully aware of.
“Is the Premier League more competitive now? Man City is not running away with it, there’s loads of teams near the top,” he added. “Problem is we’re not one of them.
“I don’t think you should only win games when you’re outstanding and we were not that at Forest, but we should have won. We have to build a team for tomorrow, maybe a different system again and go from there.”
Klopp added that midfielders Thiago and Jordan Henderson should be fit to play against Leeds, while defender Ibrahima Konate could also return to the side.
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(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Ken Ferris)