Darwin Núñez has been lighting up the Segunda División in Spain. Almería paid four million euros for him in the summer and the 20-year-old Uruguayan striker’s fine form is justifying his price tag. He has scored 12 goals in 20 matches, leading Almería to the third position and the possibility of playing in the promotion playoffs.
Núñez joined Almería after only 22 matches at Peñarol, where he made his debut aged only 18. After 14 matches and four goals for Uruguay U20s, Núñez’s performances earned him his first full cap against Peru in October 2019. Unsurprisingly, he scored five minutes after being subbed in.
This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of how he has achieved so much at his young age. It will also cover how he could fit in La Liga or any other elite competitions. At the moment Betis have shown interest and surely many others will soon.
Núñez is a right-footed striker who can play alone up front or partner with another forward. He’s tall and strong but well-coordinated, his pace being one of his main weapons. This combined with his work rate and off-the-ball movements provide a constant threat to his rivals.
He acts as a target man, both winning aerial duels and making runs to get long passes in behind. He’s constantly making runs, creating passing opportunities, and opening spaces for his teammates. He doesn’t get involved a lot in the creative part of the attacks and prefers simple and short passes.
In his touches maps, we see he covers a lot of pitch. This is because of his willingness to run both from the flanks to the goal to create chances and from central positions to the flanks to open spaces.
Off-the-ball movements and work rate
From his striker position, Núñez is very important for Almería’s tactics as a way to start their attacks. When the opponent press high up the pitch, Núñez is constantly making runs in behind to stretch the rival team and giving a low-risk solution to the centre-backs with a long ball. But he’s also important when teams don’t press as he can receive long passes to his chest and win aerial duels. He’s often fouled for his ability to hold the ball.
He’s usually positioned a few meters away from the defenders – this way he has space to start his runs and take advantage of his powerful stride. He’s a fantastic runner, somewhat reminiscent of his countryman Fede Valverde in this aspect. He times his runs well to avoid being offside and gets any ball that gets past the defensive line using his pace.
In the example above we see Núñez receiving a long ball to his chest in the left flank. He often looks to get into duels with the full-backs to use his physical superiority to hold the ball.
In the image above we see how he attacks the channel between the right-back and the centre-back. Even when the defender has a slight advantage, his pace allows him to get to these balls. With these kinds of runs, he pushes the defensive line back and helps his team advance.
Again below we see how he starts his run with a clear positional disadvantage, but his speed makes him get to the deep pass before the defenders. He also creates space by moving the defensive line back.
When his team is in a more advanced position he gets nearer to the centre-backs and is constantly looking to generate advantages with his movements. Núñez runs the channels between the centre-back and the full-back and holds the ball in the wings. He also makes runs across the defensive line to create spaces for his teammates and doubts in the opposition defence.
In the next picture, Núñez is running across the defensive line from the left side. As he rides he frees up space behind him for his teammates to play in. In this case, he creates spaces for a long pass to the left-winger or a short pass to the attacking midfielder.
Once inside the box, Núñez is very intelligent to anticipate and get into shooting positions. He often stops and accelerates, changes direction and runs from the back of the defenders to anticipate them. His 2.79 shots and 4.58 touches in the box/90’ show this ability to find spaces.
Below is the moment before his first goal for Uruguay. He’s positioned behind the defender and starts a powerful run to the near post when the left-back crosses the ball. He uses his speed to anticipate and scores with a diving header.
His work rate also translates into defensive work. He can press the defensive line for the 90 minutes and puts the defenders in very difficult situations. Once the ball gets past him he often tracks back and takes his rivals by surprise to recover the ball. This reflects in his defensive stats. He has 1.56 interceptions/90’ and gets into 2.67 defensive duels/90’, which are good figures for a striker.
In the first image below we see him tracking back into his own half and recovering the ball from an off-guard opponent. In the second one, he presses the centre-back, provokes a mistake in his pass to the goalkeeper and scores an open goal.
The simpler the better
Núñez isn’t a creative or technical striker. He has enough technical ability to take advantage of his physicality and can dribble past players using his pace when he has space in front of him. When playing in tight spaces his first touch can let him down. He neither has the ability nor skill to dribble in tight spaces.
The positive side is that Núñez seems to know his limitations. With just 17.1 passes and 0.06 assists/90’, he’s not very involved in the game – he’s much better when he sticks to simple passes. One of his trademark plays is making a simple pass to the winger and then using his power to burst into the box from behind to outpace the defenders and get into shooting positions.
In the picture below is an example of his lack of quality. He carries the ball in a very promising counter-attack, but instead of assisting the attacker in the more central position he plays a simple pass to the right-winger and gets himself in the box. It’s not a bad choice keeping in mind his passing ability, but it’s not the best way to end a dangerous attack.
This self-knowledge is responsible for his good dribbling stats too. He has 3.8 dribbles/90’ with a 62.7% success rate and 1.95 progressive runs/90’. These stats may suggest he’s very skilled on the ball, but seeing him play proves he just knows exactly when to dribble, taking advantage of his pace when he has space and avoiding dribbling in tight spaces. Once he starts running in open spaces he’s almost unstoppable as we have seen in this scout report.
When it comes to finishing, Núñez is very composed. In the box he has a wider skill set than outside it, using both legs to finish with clinical accuracy. He can also dribble past the goalkeeper and use his weaker foot to score as we see in the image below.
Núñez is destined to be the next top Uruguayan striker. He has the work rate, aggressiveness, and scoring ability similar to the likes of Luis Suárez, Edinson Cavani, or Maxi Gómez. He may not be the most aesthetically-pleasing forward out there, but he’s certainly an effective one. He’s more suited to a counter-attacking style in which he can exploit his pace and his runs.
Getafe or Eibar are the most obvious examples of La Liga sides he could fit in. But if he continues to progress at the current rate a move to a Champions League side like Atlético shouldn’t be ruled out. He should also be considered by some EPL sides as he certainly has the characteristics to succeed in the high-intensity and direct approach England football usually has.