There is a new mural developing near the site of the new Anfield Road stand celebrating the greatest strikers to wear the Liverpool jersey.
They form a gallery of past and present legends like Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler, Luis Suárez and Mohamed Salah.
Positioned between Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané is a nod to the future: Darwin Núñez. His inclusion so early into his Premier League career is charitable. Given the inauspicious start to his Anfield career, it would have been wiser to wait and see if he will ever deserve to be in such exalted company.
The anticipation of pre-season when the Premier League campaign was advertised as a shoot-out of the new No 9s at Manchester City and Liverpool already looks embarrassingly misguided. The Community Shield, when Núñez’s late cameo overshadowed a rusty performance by Erling Haaland, looks like it happened in another era, any hope the South American would instantly and seamlessly blend into Jürgen Klopp’s formation dismantled while Haaland busies himself with demolishing Premier League records.
Klopp’s plan with Núñez radically changed within a few training sessions, with the player now being described as a work-in-progress who must fully acclimatise before being regularly unleashed. That was not how the deal was sold or understood by the fanbase when Liverpool moved quickly to secure Núñez’s signature before confirming Mané’s sale to Bayern Munich.
So far, Núñez has played a combined 229 minutes of Premier League and Champions League football, thanks to the three-game ban he received for butting Crystal Palace’s Joachim Anderson and the schedule disruption caused by the death of the Queen and the international break.
But more recently, Klopp has opted for the tried-and-trusted Firmino or fit-again Diogo Jota. Indeed, there was a telling moment when Liverpool were drawing 2-2 with Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday as Klopp turned to his substitutes and the Kop chanted for the introduction of Jota, not Núñez. The 23-year-old finally appeared in the 89th minute, by which time Liverpool’s search for a winner had seen them adopt the most regressive tactics of hitting long and high in Núñez’s direction.
When Liverpool head to Arsenal next weekend and welcome City the following week, barring a radical change in formation or an extreme upturn in form at the AXA training centre it is inconceivable Núñez will start ahead of Jota and Firmino if they are fit. Given how tough the forthcoming schedule is, the upcoming Champions League games against Rangers – the first of which is on Tuesday night – may be Núñez’s best hope of a starting place.
Klopp understands the external pressure on his record signing, but offered no guarantees to Núñez until the time is right.
“I know this kind of discussion will open up to the outside world. Of course the three-game didn’t help him, that’s clear,” said Klopp. “Only yesterday we had a long talk with Pep Lijnders (Liverpool’s assistant manager) because my Portuguese is still not better. We just told him we are really calm.
“It’s really important in our situation that he isn’t looking like he is worrying or whatever. He’s still adapting, how players always adapt. New players come in and everybody talks about them and wants them to shine immediately. That happens from time to time [but] sometimes not.”
Núñez is not the first Klopp signing who has been held back and taught the ropes before being trusted with a regular starting place. Andrew Robertson made only three Liverpool appearances in his first six months at Anfield before cementing his position at left-back, with Klopp and his coaching side determining he needed a greater physical and tactical understanding of his role.
Likewise, Fabinho toiled in his early months at the club before becoming integral to the team’s evolution from nearly-men to winners. Going further back, Firmino looked lost as a Brendan Rodgers’ signing in 2015 before Klopp turned him into the most effective, high pressing No 9 in world football.
Those who hit the ground running – such as Salah and Luis Díaz – were integrated into a fully functioning side. Liverpool’s current defects add to Klopp’s hesitancy in reshaping the front three.
“The team is not flying, and that makes it not easier for a striker, especially not for a finisher,” said Klopp. “It’s not that we aren’t creating chances, but it’s not like everything is clicking and we put in one player and he finishes our situation off. That’s not our situation at the moment as much as I wish it would be.
“He [Núñez] didn’t start the game at the weekend because he came back from the internationals and had a hamstring problem.”
Clearly it is premature for Núñez to be placed alongside so many of the striking legends. It would be equally wise to hold fire before doing what Brighton’s supporters did so brutally at the weekend – declaring the South American the next Andy Carroll. But there is no doubt Núñez, and Liverpool, need a pick-me-up – and quickly.