Darwin Nunez was prepared for this week.

He had already taken calls from the new Uruguay manager Marcelo Bielsa and like so many other players interacting with the 68-year-old for the first time, he was impressed with the personalised element of the conversation.

Bielsa’s ability to quickly identify strengths and weaknesses in the games of the individuals he works with has helped set him apart for years, and for Nunez, who is well-briefed on the manager’s grand plans in charge of his national team, it’s no different.

From his base in the north west of England, the Liverpool striker listened carefully as, through a variety of video calls over recent weeks, Bielsa reiterated exactly what he wanted when Nunez pulled on the Uruguay jersey. Nunez missed the first two friendly games of Bielsa’s tenure over the summer.

There were suggestions on how he should time his runs to get the better of opposition defenders and tips to help convert more chances. Nunez, a strong one-touch finisher when meeting deliveries into the box, should be excited if Bielsa continues to attack with width and build around a lone striker, as he has done in his previous jobs.

Much of the focus, though, centred around how Nunez can help the team instead of how the team can help Nunez. Bielsa loves working with individuals and has managed Gabriel Batistuta, Hernan Crespo (both Argentina) and Alexis Sanchez (Chile) at international level, as well as guiding strikers such as Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao) and Patrick Bamford (Leeds United) to their most prolific goalscoring seasons in the top flight. But, as they will all say, his instructions are always geared towards the collective.

Nunez has already found that out in training this week. On Saturday, the 24-year-old is expected to lead the line against Chile — the nation Bielsa helped transform — as the World Cup qualifiers get underway.

Veteran strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani have been omitted from the squad — a decision that dominated a 55-minute pre-match press conference this week. A huge responsibility now falls on Nunez, who was back among the goals for Liverpool a fortnight ago, with a double in the 2-1 win over Newcastle United.

Nunez celebrates against Newcastle (Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Exactly how much Bielsa is able to extract out of the forward will only be revealed over time. What’s fascinating now is how Nunez reacts to another coach with very forceful, fixed ideas that vary in style from Jurgen Klopp but draw similarities in how they are delivered.

There’s optimism in the Uruguay camp that a new cycle of players can bring greater success after the disappointing early exit at the last World Cup.

Nunez, alongside Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Manuel Ugarte are the star names, but already Bielsa has put his stamp on the makeup of the squad. The average age has been lowered, with 30-year-old goalkeeper Sergio Rochet now the oldest member.

Bielsa has done this in the past when managing Leeds United, Lille, Lazio, Marseille and Bilbao, as well as leading both the Chile and Argentina national teams.

A player who previously played under Bielsa, who asked to remain anonymous to protect relationships, told The Athletic : “The first few weeks are brutal and, to be honest, it doesn’t get much easier, but once you understand the importance he places on fitness, the more you become accustomed to meeting his demands.”

Within weeks of taking on his 15th managerial role via Uruguay, Bielsa made it very clear that weight and fitness levels would be tracked meticulously. Uruguayan players are renowned as selfless and always willing to run, so it feels like a match made in heaven.

Every player was briefed before this week’s meet-up on the way the team will approach games, with Bielsa and his coaching team using a variety of presentations and analytical videos to prepare for the matches ahead.

Nunez also said in an interview last week: “(Bielsa) showed me some of my matches, he corrected some things I’d done. For example, there’s a play where all of the opposition team are back, (where he says) “Don’t run in front of the second centre-back, run in behind”. So that the centre-back loses me.”

Video analysis has been stepped up this week at camp and, with Suarez and Cavani both out of the picture, Bielsa’s knack for quickly pulling together a group of players could benefit Nunez.

After a stuttering opening campaign in England where much of the focus was on what Nunez did wrong rather than right, the external noise around his performances has only grown.

With such a hefty price tag — Liverpool paid Benfica an initial £64million ($79.9m) — and the arrival of Erling Haaland to the Premier League, his numbers have been heavily scrutinised. Haaland struck 52 times in all competitions for Manchester City; Nunez scored 15.

In a piece for The Athletic in January, the Premier League’s record-goalscorer Alan Shearer said he was not concerned with the form of Nunez — who at the time was one of the most wasteful strikers in the division — because of his pace, power and willingness to always come back for more.

Former Liverpool striker Michael Owen also had his say this week, adding that he was impressed with Nunez’s striking of the ball on the volley, but that he needed to improve his finishing when the ball was on the ground. Nunez spurned 20 big chances last season, according to Opta.

The two superbly taken goals away at Newcastle suggested a changing of the times, with Klopp describing both finishes as “unbelievable”. Yet against Aston Villa in the 3-0 win last weekend, Nunez struck the post, crossbar and missed an open goal from just six yards out. It felt like a reflection of his time in England so far.

Nunez was wasteful against Villa at the weekend (Matt McNulty/Getty Images)

Building on his early goals while on international duty will clearly help. Nunez had a spring in his step in training after his two Liverpool goals last month.

There had been some difficult times for him at Anfield as he missed games towards the back end of last season with a toe injury. He was also left out of the team due to a drop-off in form.

With criticism rife on social media, he also removed himself from the noise and instead focused on “working in silence” in a bid to build on the 17 goals he has scored in 46 appearances so far.

Now he recognises the need to kickstart a “new phase” for Uruguay with Bielsa at the helm and is excited to start the process.

In turn, the manager expects Nunez to tuck away chances if they come his way, but also won’t be too critical if he falls short.

So much focus is placed on the lone striker role in Bielsa’s favoured 4-1-4-1 formation that goalscoring alone is not the main priority.

This was made clear in 2019 when he was in charge of Leeds and Bamford — a player who gave an England shirt to his boss when he earned international recognition — was struggling in front of goal and loan signing Eddie Nketiah, an obvious goal-getter, was itching for a start.

Bielsa’s conclusion was that until Nketiah started running for the team instead of simply for his goals, the selfless Bamford would remain his man.

It will be the same for Nunez, who is expected to initiate the press and do enough running for the team that will, in turn, eventually present him with chances to score.

There will still be an individual focus, just like there was when Bielsa worked with Bamford and spent hours going through individual shooting sessions as well as tailoring video analysis to his man up top.

In 2020, amid a 17-goal Premier League season, Bamford said: “Throughout the week, you get sent various things. Sometimes you get clips of the defender you will be playing against.

“The last three weeks, I had two or three videos sent every day of Erling Haaland, like 15 minutes each one. I had to watch them and see what I could pick out from him.”

Bamford had his best run of form under Bielsa at Leeds (Pat Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

He scored against Chelsea that week and credited those clips: “To be honest, it was quite similar to some of his goals.

“I think I can work on the explosiveness of some of my runs. Sometimes, I make a run without 100 per cent determination or conviction.”

Bielsa takes pride in improving players in his search for a high-energy, high-pressing team that will create havoc for opponents, but he is far more concerned about his players getting the combined aspects of play correct and has always accepted that the final touch can go either way.

The job for Nunez when in possession will be to come deep to link up play. He will also be asked to create space by making constant runs into the channels while also looking to get onto through balls and keep the opposition defence moving.

He has to do that for Klopp at times and already he’s shown his value in winning the ball back in dangerous areas and then creating chances for himself. The run off the left and shot with his right foot is a particular favourite and almost netted Liverpool a late winner in the opening game of this season at Chelsea, which ended 1-1.

Off the ball, it will be down to Nunez to lead the pressing movements. Uruguay need to get off to a positive start on this international break. They face Ecuador after tomorrow’s encounter with Chile. In the first two friendly games under Bielsa this summer, which Nunez missed, there were still clear areas to improve, despite comfortably seeing off both Cuba (2-0) and Nicaragua (4-1).

And what about Nunez, who has shown his individual willingness to put in the hard yards, but has not quite hit the expected heights at Liverpool yet?

Working under Bielsa could help unlock another level, if only through sheer grit and determination. The manager is not a miracle worker. He simply sees his job as a coach to create the patterns and build-up, which gets his lone striker on the end of chances, but for as long as that is Nunez, there’s an opportunity for the forward to thrive.

(Top photos: Getty Images)