Crystal Palace paid Darwin Nunez the compliment of coming up with a new, aggressive gameplan to stop him. Little could they have guessed how easily Liverpool’s hyped-up £85million striker would fall into their trap.
Nunez, on his first Liverpool start, lasted just 57 frustrating minutes against Palace’s rugged back-five before the red mist descended to match his shirt.
Reacting to a shove in the back from Joachim Andersen, the 23-year-old Uruguayan stupidly leant forward to headbutt his foe on the jaw.
It wasn’t the kind of comparison to his compatriot Luis Suarez that he wanted on his first Liverpool appearance at Anfield and there was nothing referee Paul Tierney could do except send him for a walk of shame down the tunnel.
The meltdown had been coming too. Having scored three goals in his first two Liverpool games as a substitute, Nunez found his first start for Jurgen Klopp far more taxing with Palace’s back-five featuring three strong central defenders Joel Ward, Andersen and Marc Guehi suffocating him for time and space.
Unable to use his blistering speed, it became clear that Nunez has not yet got the craft or technical mastery of Roberto Fimino, the centre-forward he is replacing.
And perhaps burdened by the hype, when rare scoring opportunities came his way, Nunez fluffed them.
An early cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold found him six yards from goal at the far post but he misjudged the flight of the ball, twisted his body awkwardly and volleyed badly wide.
An even better chance was wasted on the stroke of half-time. Harvey Elliott spotted Nunez ahead of his marker, wing-back Nathaniel Clyne, but when the pass arrived, the striker delayed, allowed Clyne to close in and eventually made a weak contact with his finish.
In between there was a rash challenge on Andersen by the halfway line and another movement with his head towards the defender, who is the type of strong, organised and disciplined centre-half he’ll have to contend with in the Premier League this season.
In terms of X-factor Nunez is the equal of any of Klopp’s fine forwards but he currently looks short in terms of linking up with team-mates.
Even Mo Salah looks as if he is trying to adapt to help Nunez, as Manchester City players are with Erling Haaland.
The Egyptian slipped a great pass for his colleague to run onto but when Palace’s defenders closed in, the return ball from the striker wasn’t concise enough for Salah to shoot.
It won’t have helped Nunez’s mood either that after he’d let his side down and left the pitch, Liverpool’s “other” South American Luis Diaz scored a stunning equaliser.
Anfield legend Jamie Carragher said of Nunez before kick off: ‘He seems to cause havoc when he’s on the pitch.’ Unfortunately for Nunez, all the havoc on Monday night was self-inflicted.