Darwin Núñez made his mark on his full Premier League debut at Anfield, though not as Jürgen Klopp had intended. Liverpool’s showpiece summer signing was shown a straight red card for head-butting Crystal Palace defender Joachim Andersen as Klopp’s side were held to a second successive draw of the fledgling campaign.
Luis Díaz gave Liverpool hope of overturning Wilfried Zaha’s first half opener with a spectacular equaliser scored within minutes of Núñez’s foolish loss of control. But Patrick Vieira’s determined team defended with clear heads and impressive spirit to claim a rare point at Anfield.
There were more additions to Liverpool’s already extensive injury list before 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 as Núñez made his first league start following his big-money arrival from Benfica.
Liverpool’s 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. The keeper needed treatment having landed awkwardly from his clearance.
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 from the right. 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 defenders regularly, but there was variety to their early dominance. Alexander-Arnold found Andy Robertson sprinting into the visitors’ penalty area, Díaz had a shot deflected into the arms of Guaita and Mohamed Salah prodded wide from yet another inviting delivery from Liverpool’s right-back. The connection between Alexander-Arnold and 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.
Palace were not only besieged for the opening half-hour, their struggle to retain possession or come close to winning any 50-50s drove Vieira to distraction in his technical area. 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 execute their plan to counterattack through Zaha until Guaita scooped a clearance towards Eberechi Eze inside Palace’s 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.
Zaha was close to doubling Palace’s stunning advantage minutes later when Cheick Doucouré parted Liverpool’s central defence again. A heavy first touch undermined the goalscorer’s prospects of a repeat finish, however, and Alisson saved Zaha’s shot at close range.
Vieira’s team had good fortune to thank for preserving their lead until the interval. The final act of the first half saw Elliott release Núñez inside the area with a delightful chip. As the striker shaped to shoot Doucouré dived in with a crucial touch, diverting the ball beyond his own keeper but against the far post.
Liverpool’s problems intensified in the second half 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 Andersen, who collapsed in theatrical style, giving referee Paul Tierney no alternative but to produce a red card. The Uruguay international will be banned for three matches.
Anfield erupted with a misplaced sense of grievance and their team fed off the backing. Four minutes after the dismissal, and just days after Klopp had backed Díaz to come good in front of goal, the Colombia international responded with a superb effort. Receiving the ball wide on the left, Díaz weaved his way past four 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.
It would have been in vain had Zaha converted Doucouré's cross late on but, unmarked at the back post, the Ivory Coast international volleyed against the outside of a post. - Guardian