Darwin Núñez sent a message on his full Premier League debut and it merely added to Liverpool’s problems in this fledgling campaign. The new £64m striker showed Anfield and rival defenders everywhere that he can rise easily to provocation by collecting a straight red card and a three-match ban for head-butting Crystal Palace defender Joachim Andersen. Núñez lost his head at precisely the moment Liverpool needed him to use it wisely.
Only two games in but four points behind Manchester City already, Liverpool’s start to the season has brought Jürgen Klopp one headache after another. His team’s display against Palace was not high on the list. Liverpool largely dominated against Patrick Vieira’s team and stirred impressively following Núñez’s foolish loss of control, Luis Díaz equalising in spectacular style after Wilfried Zaha’s first-half opener. But with injury problems showing no sign of abating and given the punishing demands of a title challenge the loss of the Uruguay international was galling for Klopp. Núñez is the first Liverpool player to be sent off for violent conduct during his tenure. His manager needs him to learn from the mistake and learn fast.
Liverpool pushed for a winner that would have sparked delirium inside Anfield but Vieira’s determined team defended with clear heads and impressive spirit to end a run of 10 successive defeats against Klopp’s side. The visitors worked tirelessly off the ball and could have pinched all three points late on through Zaha or Andersen.
There were more additions to Liverpool’s already extensive injury list ahead of their first home game of the season. Joël Matip joined fellow central defender Ibrahima Konaté on the sidelines with a muscle injury and, with Joe Gomez only fit enough for the bench after a recent problem, Nat Phillips was handed his first Premier League start since May 2021. It was Phillips’s first start alongside Virgil van Dijk and he marked his return by winning two towering headers inside the opening 14 seconds. Roberto Firmino was also absent.
Liverpool’s opening-day performance at Fulham improved immeasurably following Núñez’s introduction and they started with an intensity and focus that was absent in the first half at Craven Cottage. The hosts should have led after a minute when Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita punched a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross out to James Milner while under pressure from Liverpool’s new centre-forward. Milner reacted sharply but skied a clear opening over Guaita’s goal.
Núñez also missed a decent opportunity after Van Dijk and Alexander-Arnold stretched Palace with long, pinpoint passes. Andersen managed to block Harvey Elliott’s goalbound drive, presenting Alexander-Arnold with another chance to cross. He found Núñez unmarked at the back post but, perhaps surprised by Palace’s failure to head clear, the striker steered an awkward volley high and wide.
Liverpool were understandably keen to utilise the height of their new forward addition and swept crosses in behind the Palace defender regularly, but there was variety to their early dominance. The connection between Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah ensured an exhausting night for Tyrick Mitchell at left wing-back while Núñez also displayed an immediate and encouraging rapport with the Egypt international. The Uruguayan’s movement off the ball impressed too. For 57 minutes anyway.
Palace were not only besieged for the opening half hour, their struggle to retain possession or win any 50-50s drove Vieira to distraction. Klopp’s irritation looked trivial in comparison, the Liverpool manager turning towards the crowd and putting his finger to his lips after they had encouraged a hugely ambitious Van Dijk shot from 30 yards. All of which explained why the Palace breakthrough came as such a shock.
The visitors had barely had a chance to counterattack through Zaha until Guaita scooped a clearance towards Eberechi Eze inside the Palace half. Eze controlled superbly, spun away from Fabinho’s hesitant challenge and released Zaha into acres of space behind Phillips. Palace’s lone striker waltzed through on goal and beat Alisson with a clinical, powerful finish into the far corner.
Liverpool’s problems increased when Núñez saw red for a head-butt on Andersen. Trouble had been brewing between the pair for some time and when the defender shoved Núñez in the back following an argument the striker stupidly took the bait. He thrust his head into the face of Anderson, who collapsed in theatrical style, and gave referee Paul Tierney no alternative but to produce a red card.
Anfield erupted with a misplaced sense of grievance and their team fed off the backing. Four minutes after the dismissal, and three days after Klopp had backed Díaz to come good in front of goal, the Colombia international responded with a superb goal that set up a frenetic finale. Receiving the ball wide on the left, Díaz weaved his way past five white shirts along the edge of the penalty area before unleashing a right-footed shot that flew beyond Guaita in the Palace goal.
Klopp went wild in front of the Main Stand, the relief palpable, but a first win of the season proved elusive. Zaha could have won it for Palace late on but volleyed Doucouré’s cross against a post from close range.
Source: The Guardian