Liverpool mix the good, bad and ugly but stunning goal earns share of spoils
These are early days to talk of the rise and fall of title challenges but at the mid-point of August, Liverpool are already four points behind their great rivals of the era, Manchester City, and contemplating the good and the bad that comes with another fiery Uruguayan leading their attack.
Darwin Nunez was sent off on his home debut in this engrossing game of attack and counter that saw Jurgen Klopp’s ten men promptly fight back to take a point and go close to winning. They had all the territory and most of the possession – and in the resistance of Luis Diaz, a man who got them a point and very nearly a win.
Yet, this has been more of a stumble to the start of the season for a team so finely tuned, as the injuries pile up and the opposition sit deep.
There will be no Nunez in the team for Monday’s visit to Old Trafford, and Klopp will also have to be certain of the fitness of captain Jordan Henderson and his fellow England international Joe Gomez. Both started this game on the bench as they nursed injuries, two more to add to a growing list that had Klopp down to his last three functioning centre-halves.
For Palace, this was another well-chosen tactical plan from Patrick Vieira, whose talented young team were comfortable playing with less than 30 per cent possession and sitting low.
Their first-half goal was scored against the odds by Wilfried Zaha on the counter-attack and they picked away enough at the patience of Liverpool to prompt a bad misjudgement from Nunez. He was given a straight red for thrusting his head into the face of Joachim Andersen.
Threading the ball through the five men of Palace’s defence and the additional four in midfield began as an absorbing puzzle to be solved by Klopp’s men and then, it became something altogether more serious as they fell behind to an improbable counter-attack.
A brilliant 32nd-minute thrust by Palace in behind the great attacking machine of what feels like Liverpool’s front eight, thrumming away at the away side and then suddenly turned inside out.
On this occasion two passes was all it took – a clearance from goalkeeper Vicente Guaita, and then Eberechi Eze’s throughball – to set Zaha on goal. He ran off Nat Phillips, an unlikely starter for Liverpool in the midst of another extensive set of injuries. Phillips is very much fifth-choice centre-half in this Liverpool side and played most of last season on loan in the Championship at Bournemouth.
Indeed, his last Premier League start was in May 2021 against the same opposition, and if it had not been for the many previously fit bodies dropping over the last three weeks he may well have left Liverpool by now.
First Ibrahima Konate was injured in pre-season and then Virgil van Dijk watched as two more fell by the wayside. First Joel Matip, with an injury in training last week, and last night Joe Gomez was assigned a place on the bench as a precaution with a trip to Old Trafford at the weekend.
For a side that plays so high up the pitch, a centre-half slow on the turn presents a risk and Zaha’s finish was thrilling in its confidence – speared past Alisson Becker in front of the Kop. An unlikely goal requires a prodigious talent and Zaha certainly has that.
At the other end, Liverpool were magnificent at times and struck the post with the very last attack of the half, one of many chances that just passed them by. They had 17 first-half attempts on the Palace goal, although only three on target.
On that occasion Nunez hustled in from the inside left channel, taking Harvey Elliott’s ball on his chest. The intervention from Cheick Doucoure took it over Guaita, but also onto the far post. Elliott had been a beguiling presence in midfield, with an effortlessly adhesive touch and then a nonchalance about trying all the difficult things. Liverpool created chances, including a couple for Mohamed Salah, the second of which was floated over the Palace back five into space by Trent Alexander-Arnold, suddenly from nowhere in the centre of midfield.
There was a header for Elliott and, in the first nine minutes, another chance for Nunez, which he missed at the back post. Palace had dug in and the first half plan seemed to have gone exactly as Vieira had intended.
It turned into a frenzy rather earlier than anyone expected, beginning with that red card for Nunez. There were a couple of shoves from the centre-back Andersen and a bit of non-committal head-to-head before Nunez jabbed in with his face and gave referee Paul Tierney an easy decision.
What was the Uruguayan thinking? The assumption may be that he expected just a little more of the gentle butting and then stuck his forehead in much harder than he anticipated.
Joe Cole was another red card on his Liverpool home debut, but hard to think of many more. There has not been a sending-off at Anfield for one of Klopp’s players since Alisson in November 2019.
The equaliser was a brilliant incursion from the left from Diaz, probing and feinting, moving across the face of the Palace area until the moment when he had enough space to release a shot, right-footed across the goalkeeper and inside his left post. It electrified a pensive home crowd and Diaz was at the heart of driving on the home side.
Telegraph Media Group Limited