Darwin Nunez would rather be a Premier League starter than playing for Jurgen Klopp’s Europa League side but he showed enough willingness to prove he’s no £85million prima donna and deserved his goal courtesy of an emphatic finish.
The fact he then went on a mesmerising solo run only to muck up the finish Ronny Rosenthal-style underlined the hit-and-miss nature of his Anfield career so far.
With Liverpool 3-1 up he accelerated through the Toulouse defence, rounded Guillaume Restes and then in front of an open goal in front of The Kop, hit the post from six yards as he lapsed in concentration already thinking of his celebration.
Ryan Gravenberch snaffled the rebound and at least Nunez was able to smile as he was substituted straight after, a pre-planned change it should be pointed out.
The horrible miss will be replayed a lot but it shouldn’t detract from a fantastic all-round performance that has made him a huge crowd favourite on Merseyside even though he’s had his struggles.
Darwin Nunez was among the scorers as Liverpool put Toulouse to the sword in a 5-1 victory
He had his Ronnie Rosenthal moment when he rounded the goalkeeper, only to hit the post
Nunez was Liverpool’s marquee signing when arriving from Benfica in 2022, a man expected to share top billing with Mo Salah in Klopp’s rebuild.
Adored by The Kop and boasting a decent goals-to-games ratio, Nunez has nonetheless struggled to become the first name on the teamsheet, starting fewer than the club’s league matches.
Hence his appearance against Toulouse on Thursday night having been restricted to half-an-hour as a substitute in Saturday’s Merseyside derby.
It’s not ideal for someone of the 24-year-old’s stature whose pace and work-rate is yet to be matched by full understanding of what the Reds manager wants from him.
Yet there is no sign of the Uruguayan taking his foot off the gas, something that must be appreciated by the dressing-room.
In the early stages against Toulouse’s mass ranks of defenders, he was always on the move, looking for that yard of space to make a difference.
One run to the right-hand edge of the penalty area was spotted by Trent Alexander-Arnold. Nunez did everything correctly by surging to the byline before a lack of quality in the cross – summing up the frustrating nature of his game.
Nunez arrived as Liverpool’s marquee signing in 2022 but has never solidified himself in side
For all the good moments he has there are also numerous moments of great frustration, too
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His role in Liverpool breaking the deadlock after nine minutes was brilliant.
The French defenders were so fixated on trying to keep pace with Nunez, two of them were dragged out of position following the forward, allowing Diogo Jota to dribble into space and score.
The official assist was awarded to Joe Gomez who had passed to Jota but Nunez’s influence was equally important.
He then went close to making it 2-0 himself but was denied by a good block. Again, it typified the way his luck at Anfield is going. Since August, he’d scored as many goals for his country as his club (2-2) going into Thursday night’s match.
Nunez’s miss conjured up memories of former Liverpool player Ronnie Rosenthal
With Klopp making eight changes from Liverpool’s previous game, it’s no surprise there was a degree of disorganisation at the back, allowing Thijs Dallinga to spring the offside trap and slot home the equaliser after 16 minutes.
Nunez’s enthusiasm was key to Liverpool’s response to the setback. His runs to draw defenders gave shooting opportunities to Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones – helping to stretch a congested final third of the pitch.
The pressure paid off as Liverpool regained the lad after half-an-hour with Alexander-Arnold crossing for Wataru Endo to head in.
Nunez had the grace to greet the goal with a broad smile. Again, his role in keeping defenders occupied was valuable even if it wasn’t his name on the scoresheet.
The reward for his selflessness arrived soon after in the 34th minute. Liverpool cut through the Toulouse defence and when Jones’ shot took a ricochet into Nunez’s path, he smashed a left foot finish from eight yards, the ball hitting the roof of the net like a bullet.
Being Nunez, one feared the VAR check would rule out the goal for handball against Jones. Mercifully, replays showed the midfielder’s deflection off his upper arm had been unintentional and Nunez was able to celebrate properly his first Liverpool goal in four games.
The Uruguayan (right) always gets stuck in and he caught a stray hand from Cristian Casseres
He is adored by Liverpool’s fans and often does lots of good work that can go largely unnoticed
He is a fiery character, much like former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez used to be in his heyday
The striker is a fiery character and always a magnet to incidents, a bit like his countryman Luis Suarez had been at Anfield.
In the second half, Nunez was the innocent party as the outstretched left hand of Cristian Casseres caught him in the face as they tangled for the ball.
The Liverpool player was right to look aggrieved as he fell in some pain but did well to keep his temper in check and let the officials deal with it. Tracking back, he showed energy to retrieve the ball before being flattened by Dallinga.
He got up gingerly to huge appreciation from the home crowd chanting ‘Noo-nez, Noo-nez’.
After 56 minutes, he reacted well and nearly scored with a rebound after Ryan Gravenberch’s shot had been saved and spun up in the air.
Nunez was replaced midway through the second half. Klopp had already planned to withdraw him in case he’s needed against Nottingham Forest on Sunday.
He left the pitch with one goal. It really should have been two.