Nunez's stupid sending-off leaves Liverpool's title hopes hanging in the balance

Darwin Nunez Jurgen Klopp Liverpool 2022-23Getty/GOAL

It’s fair to say that’s not how Darwin Nunez saw his big night going, and it certainly wasn’t how Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool envisaged it either.

The Uruguayan’s home debut, his first Premier League start, lasted just 57 minutes, and ended in the ignominy of a straight red card in front of the Kop. 

When we talked about Nunez making a big impact on Merseyside, we didn’t imagine that impact would be made on the chin of Joachim Andersen, the Crystal Palace defender who was left flattened by the Reds striker’s obvious, and staggeringly daft, headbutt.

Nunez’s indiscipline cost Liverpool on the night, as they laboured to a 1-1 draw which means that, for the first time in a decade, they have failed to win either of their opening two games in a Premier League campaign. 

It could have been worse too: a goal down at the time of the dismissal, were it not for Luis Diaz’s brilliance, or Wilfried Zaha’s late miss, they’d have been nursing their first home league defeat in 17 months.

Klopp stated afterwards that he was “proud” of his team’s response with 10 men, and said he would speak to his new £64 million ($76m) signing about his moment of madness.

Whatever provocation there was from Andersen – and it was relatively minor, given the compilation videos circulating on social media – there can be no excuse for such a reaction, especially with VAR in operation and the referee, Paul Tierney, looking straight at the incident in any case.

Nunez’s indiscretion will cost him, and it will cost Liverpool.

He will now miss three games through suspension, starting with next Monday’s trip to Manchester United, and at a time when Klopp’s resources are already stretched worryingly thin, this was a headache he could ill afford.

“Because we have no other striker,” was Klopp’s response when asked why he had chosen Nunez to start against Palace. He was smiling as he delivered the line, but he was telling the truth.

With Diogo Jota sidelined and Roberto Firmino also ruled out, Nunez had to play. Even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has been used occasionally as a (rather awkward-looking) centre-forward in the past, is injured.

Two games into the season, Liverpool’s squad is creaking. They currently have 10 first-team players out, and two more – Joe Gomez and Jordan Henderson – were deemed fit enough only for a place on the bench against Palace after minor issues.

Firmino and Joel Matip were the latest to fall, Matip reporting a groin injury ahead of training on Friday, which Klopp says will keep him out for around two weeks, and Firmino picking up an as-yet-unknown issue over the weekend.

“I’ve never known a week like it,” Klopp said in his post-match press conference on Monday. “It was like we had a witch in the building, honestly! Every day, somebody else pulled out [of training] for the craziest reasons.”

Nunez’s silliness, then, was the last thing he needed, although for once he will be grateful for the fixture list, which gives his team a full week to prepare for the United game. 

He hopes Firmino, at least, will have a chance of returning for that, but Matip is out, Jota is still a couple of weeks away, and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Thiago Alcantara, Ibrahima Konate and Curtis Jones are still on the treatment table.

Even the No.2 goalkeeper, Caoimhin Kelleher, summer signing Calvin Ramsay and teenage star Kaide Gordon are crocked.

It all adds up to a challenge, and one which will intensify calls for Liverpool to look to solve their problems in the transfer market.

News that Wolves have agreed a deal to sign Matheus Nunes, the Sporting Lisbon midfielder who has been linked with the Reds recently, will have gone down like a lead balloon with supporters in that regard.

Klopp insists Liverpool won’t panic buy, and we should take him at his word, but this has been a troubling start to the campaign, one which already leaves them playing catch up with Manchester City, and which places added pressure on that trip to Old Trafford next week.

Lose there, against the league’s crisis club, and the knives will be out for sure. That’s the price of success, sadly, and the standards set by Liverpool in recent years are such that any drop – such as a couple of below-par results – is going to create chatter.

Their job now is to quieten that chatter, and that can only be done through wins and through convincing performances.

For now, they’re going to have to achieve those without Nunez.

The new boy will learn from his mistake, for sure, and will almost certainly go on to become a big player for Liverpool in the coming months and years, but his stupidity has left his team, and his manager, facing a tricky few weeks.