Jurgen Klopp blanked Darwin Nunez as he trudged past him. He loved what he saw when the Uruguayan first played at Anfield, even though it damaged his team, but he was in Benfica’s colours that day. He was less happy with what he witnessed on the £64m striker’s home debut as, once again, he harmed Liverpool.
While Nunez was sent off for a combination of foolishness and violent conduct, Klopp’s other big buy from Portugal this year spared Liverpool the rarity of defeat at Anfield. Luis Diaz’s was a superlative equaliser but theirs has been a stuttering start to the season. With two games gone, they are four points behind Manchester City.
The title race may not be over but, even with 108 points to play for, it is hard to make up such a deficit to Pep Guardiola’s side, especially when the eventual winners end up around the 95-point mark.
Once again, they paid for conceding first. Crystal Palace completed a capital double for Liverpool, following Fulham in taking the lead against them and two points off them. Like Fulham, they excelled with Wilfried Zaha following in Aleksandar Mitrovic’s stead, albeit with very different methods, by troubling them.
Yet if there were similarities with last Saturday, there was also the greatest of differences. Nunez exchanged the role of hero for that of villain. His has been a tale of three debuts: two terrific, one terrible. He had scored on his Liverpool bow and his maiden Premier League appearance, proving a galvanising force as a substitute in both. Granted a first start and a first appearance in red at Anfield, he did not finish this game.
He was sent off for headbutting Joachim Andersen, albeit without much force, although the defender reacted theatrically. His provocation was no justification and Nunez needed James Milner to steer him away from referee Paul Tierney before Klopp ignored him as he eventually made his way off.
Even before then, it had not been his night: an early volley was miscued, a shot on the stroke of half-time mishit on to the post. With Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota injured, his stupidity and subsequent suspension were ill-timed.
It rendered it more important that another stepped up and Diaz obliged. His was a wonderful strike, the Colombian powering infield and curling a shot beyond Vicente Guaita. His goals have been relative rarities for Liverpool, and this was just a seventh, but he has a capacity to make crucial contributions. When Liverpool were a goal and a man down, he roused Anfield.
Defeat had beckoned. Indeed, it still did. Palace were inches from a historic triumph, the stretching Zaha almost scoring his and their second when he volleyed Cheikh Doucoure’s cross against the post.
While Liverpool suffered six successive losses at a deserted ground in lockdown, Palace were the last visitors to win a Premier League game in front of a crowd at Anfield, but that was in 2017. Patrick Vieira was agonisingly close to a result that may have even topped last season’s victory at the Etihad Stadium.
It was a reminder that Palace can be the scourge of the superpowers. Their speed on the break means they are capable of springing ambushes. They absorbed pressure, their 5-4-1 formation giving them numbers at the back, Andersen excelling amid some defiant defending and Liverpool were caught on the counterattack by the magnificent Zaha and the creative Eberechi Eze.
It was the swiftest of breaks, taking Palace from one penalty box to the other and involving only three players: Guaita’s clearance was met by Eze, who played in his pass into the acres of space behind Liverpool’s defence.
Zaha accelerated beyond Nat Phillips and sidefooted a shot past Alisson. Phillips, Liverpool’s fifth-choice centre-back, was starting with Joel Matip joining Ibrahima Konate on the treatment table and Joe Gomez only deemed fit enough to begin on the bench.
Initially, it seemed as though his presence might not matter but Liverpool had 17 shots in the first half and went in trailing.
It was the sixth successive Premier League game where they conceded the opening goal. Although Milner could have scored inside a minute, slashing a shot over, and Harvey Elliott and Nunez could have done in the first 10.
Mohamed Salah missed two chances before Zaha struck and angled a shot just wide in a quest for a winner. Fabio Carvalho also almost bailed Liverpool out but Palace’s obduracy meant they merited their point.
And so Liverpool head to Old Trafford next week when the two most successful clubs in the history of English football are both still looking for a first league victory of the season. The serial winners have become the winless.