Liverpool ended pre-season seemingly ready to storm the Premier League and improve on last season’s near-miss of a historic quadruple. With a new deal for a smiling and seemingly rejuvenated Mohamed Salah and victory over Manchester City in the Community Shield, the mood was more than good.
Four dropped points in their first two league games, a rash of injuries, and signs that the pressure may have gotten to big money summer striker signing Darwin Nuñez after he grew frustrated and earned himself a red card for headbutting Crystal Palace centre half Joachim Andersen later, and the mood isn’t that good any more.
“A little provocation here and there and definitely the wrong reaction,” was manager Jürgen Klopp’s take on the Nuñez red. “A clear red card, I cannot deny it, but he will learn from that. Unfortunately he now has a few games to do so. That’s not cool for us, and in our specific situation even less, but it’s how it is.”
Liverpool will continue to be without Diogo Jota in the coming weeks due to injury, while Roberto Firmino missed out against Palace as a precautionary measure. The hope will be that he at least will be back in time for next Monday’s match against Manchester United, but the injuries are concerning.
The situation is similar in midfield and defence, where multiple starters are out injured. The inescapable talking point after Monday’s night’s 1-1 draw against Palace, though, will be the Nuñez red card and the fact that the striker will now miss games against United, Bournemouth, and Newcastle because of it.
It’s a worrying sign for a striker who wasn’t known for his temper in Portugal and showed signs early against Palace that he was letting Andersen get to him—though with the Palace defender not engaging in any particularly egregious dark arts it might be more fair to say the larger situation appeared to be the real problem.
A young player arriving to replace a legend, the club’s record transfer signing, and having faced a barrage of comparisons to Man City signing Erling Haaland and seen opposition fans compiling videos of his misses in training, his red card on Monday appeared that of a player overwhelmed by pressure.
That pressure won’t get any lighter following Monday’s red, and when he returns he will likely find himself targeted even more by defenders—and given less protection by officials—and the club’s priority will have to be on helping him learn to cope with that in the coming weeks or risk his being crushed by it.