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Nunez, anger and Klopp's Everton dilemma: Can Liverpool boss trust his £64m man to stay cool on derby day?

12:04 BST 02/09/2022
Darwin Nunez Liverpool 2022-23
The Uruguayan is available for Saturday's trip to Goodison Park after serving his three-match suspension

The scene was one of total bedlam, the noise akin to that which normally accompanies a title decider or cup final winner. 

Wherever you looked there were sights to behold. Fabio Carvalho sliding on his knees in front of the away end while Joel Matip was beating the ground in delight on the sideline. V-signs and middle fingers. Jurgen Klopp pulling in Andy Robertson for the tightest of hugs as Ibrahima Konate terrified BT Sport’s pitchside reporter Des Kelly. Darwin Nunez standing tallest of all in the Main Stand, waving his arms and sending a few Spanish expletives towards the Newcastle bench.

Eddie Howe’s coaching staff, in fairness, responded in kind. At least two of them threw something in the direction of their joyous Liverpool counterparts - or perhaps the fourth official. The rest looked ready to go 12 rounds if needed. For every winner there is always a loser, after all.

Has an August goal ever been celebrated with such abandon at Anfield? Certainly not in this correspondent’s lifetime. This was chaos, but the good kind. The kind which makes you feel alive and the kind you remember, no matter what comes next.

“A perfect moment,” was how Klopp described Carvalho’s late, late winner on Wednesday night. It may ‘only’ have secured three points for the Reds - and from a game they would have expected to win in any case - but the youngster’s 98th-minute strike could do so much more in terms of lifting the mood around the club, after a difficult and fractious start to the season.

Klopp’s fist pumps - seven of them - in front of the Kop said plenty. The manager knows his side are still miles from their best but at least they’re rediscovering that winning habit, and the manner of this victory will have pleased him just as much as the fact it lifts Liverpool up into fifth place in the embryonic Premier League table.

It is undeniable, despite the wins over Bournemouth and Newcastle, that there has been something missing with the Reds so far this season. Results, yes, but something else besides, something deeper.

Happiness, perhaps? A bit of confidence, for sure. The feeling that everything is going to be alright, even if hamstrings twang, minds wander and key midfield targets choose to go elsewhere. 

Klopp’s side is renowned for its intensity, but Liverpool have looked different at the start of this campaign, as if the disappointment of May, when they missed out narrowly on a historic quadruple, is still weighing on their minds. They’re still trying to do all the things that make them who they are but it just isn’t happening as naturally or as often as it has done. Key players are hunting for form, others are injured, and the general vibes among the fanbase have been remarkably downbeat, even by modern standards.

And so a win like Wednesday, a gnarly, angry, dirty triumph against stubborn and in-form opposition, must be used, as fuel and as power, and as a template for the coming weeks.

You can still do it, and look how it feels when you do.

It may yet prove a false dawn, but it felt as if something returned to Liverpool as they chased the game in the second half against Newcastle. The anger - the good kind - was back in their play, the frustration from the fans transmitting itself to the pitch and prompting an increase in tempo, urgency and purpose. 

Intensity rediscovered and rewarded - eventually.

Such skills, and such mentality, will be needed for Liverpool’s next game, as they make the short hop across Stanley Park to play neighbours Everton at Goodison on Saturday. 

“I’m not sure we should think too much about playing football,” Klopp said, not even half-joking, in his press conference on Wednesday night. “It will be a proper fight, and we have to be ready for that.” 

He has some decisions to make regarding selection, with Jordan Henderson to miss out with a hamstring issue. James Milner is the natural replacement for the stricken captain, but Carvalho’s impact off the bench has surely put him in the frame for inclusion. Curtis Jones was back on the bench against Newcastle, while a loan deal to bring Brazilian international Arthur Melo is expected to be completed on transfer deadline day.

And then there’s Nunez, who has served his three-game suspension and will be desperate to start atoning for his moment of madness against Crystal Palace, when he landed an ill-advised headbutt on Joachim Andersen?

Can Klopp trust the Uruguayan in the heat of a Goodison derby, where wily campaigners like Conor Coady and James Tarkowski will look to prod and provoke, where every challenge will be greeted with howls of derision from the home fans, and where the hyperactive Jordan Pickford will do whatever he can to take centre stage?

It seems unlikely that Nunez will start, especially with Roberto Firmino finding some form in the last week, but he should offer a more-than-useful substitute option, and judging by his reaction in the stands on Wednesday night, he has lost none of his competitive edge or will to win while suspended. 

Liverpool could well need all of that on Saturday, with Everton yet to win this season and likely to set up to frustrate and rattle, playing for counter-attacks and set-pieces. Fulham, Crystal Palace and Manchester United all had success with that kind of approach, and Everton will surely have noted Newcastle’s Atletico Madrid-style theatrics and delaying tactics too. Frank Lampard’s side, remember, deployed similar methods when beaten 2-0 at Anfield back in April.

Whether on from the start or emerging from the bench, Nunez, like his team-mates, must keep his composure amid the hostility, the pressure and the noise. “Fire in the belly, ice in the veins,” as the old saying goes.

Against Newcastle, Liverpool showed just how useful that approach can be. The Reds got angry, good angry, and they looked all the better for it.

They must hope Nunez was watching and paying attention.