Sluggishly out of the blocks, ludicrous as it seems, just two games into the new campaign, Liverpool’s hopes of regaining the Premier League title already rest upon thin ice, within an era when upwards of 90 points hasn’t always brought with it a guarantee of glory.
If the lessons of 2018/19 and 2021/22 offered us any wisdom, it was most starkly that you must constantly bridge the difference between a draw and a win, when up against the Premier League’s rank and file.
In the contemporary game there is little in the way of room for error or carelessness, and we have already spent a significant amount of ours.
Beset by a series of injuries, licking the wounds of the departure of arguably our best attacking player, still silently suffering the perceived injustices of seeing the Premier League and the Champions League elude us three months ago. There is a lot going on at Liverpool.
Add the fact they’re assimilating a new goalscorer and generally plodding along with the same cast of midfield options and there is no shortage of variables that the Reds can cling to as valid reasons for not being ‘on it’ this season.
This, even before an impending and extended winter break in order to crowbar in a World Cup.
Conspiring against ourselves isn’t going to fix things, though, and Darwin Nunez has certainly given himself and his manager plentiful food for thought, after the manner of his sending off on Monday night.
This was a game of the contrasting maturities of two Liverpool players; Nunez, the expensively priced summer arrival, a man with time on his side, yet still old enough not to be losing control of himself as needlessly as he ultimately did, offset by a teenager of four years younger, in Harvey Elliott, who put in a performance that was way beyond his years.
Frustration and an alarming lack of composure ended Nunez’s evening, drawn in by and falling all too easily for what was merely tired and textbook central defensive provocation.
Our new acquisition will face much more combustible duels than the one he was involved in with Joachim Andersen, yet here he didn’t complete his exit from the pitch without indulging in an unravelling that Joey Barton would approve of.
For an event that not many within Anfield had picked up on, it was totally unnecessary and laced with a sense of over-exaggeration in response, both in the way he departed the turf and in his reactions to the attention of the Machiavellian Andersen.
It was concerning to see that, having flung in his head once already, Nunez was then unable to talk himself out of doing it again, this within a landscape that dripped in pantomime, rather than genuine invective.
With partial fortune, the loss of Nunez ended up emboldening Liverpool’s resolve and within minutes Luis Diaz had magnificently taken it upon himself to drag his team to level terms. Of Diaz’s teammates, only Elliott could keep pace with the positive example set.
So difficult to play against, facing Elliott must be like trying to fend off the kids when attempting to make it to the kitchen with four brimmed bags for life after returning from the big shop. If you’ve been there, you know.
Elliott was into everything, the footballing equivalent of a Jack Russell, finding balls that he had no right to possess, creating space when there was none to speak of all the while riding the physical attentions of opponents that towered over him, never thinking to lash out when poked with a metaphorical stick.
In time, a footballing bromance should develop between Elliott and Diaz, another player who never responds to rough-house tactics, almost as if his markers don’t exist.
When you’re next perusing the footage of the Nunez sending off, check out the nonplussed facial reactions of our Colombian warrior. He hasn’t got a clue why he is seeing what is in front of him.
For Nunez, there is a lot of work ahead of him to fit into this Liverpool side. He has no shortage of talent and those comparing him to Andy Carroll do so in forlorn and misplaced hope, at least in terms of what he can do with a football at his feet.
He isn’t always tidy, but he is strong and direct in a way that we haven’t seen in a Liverpool shirt for many years; he possesses a subtle touch, yet the ball can bounce off him at times.
When Nunez struck the post just before halftime, he kind of shinned it, while there was a bit of an earlier mishit that lacked the smoothness of many of his predecessors.
There is a touch of Diego Costa about him while still very much being his own man, and if he can avoid the red mist then we will have quite a player on our hands if he can grow up a bit.
Within this, change brings volatility. Sadio Mane brought the perfect balance to that original trio with Mohamed Salah and Bobby Firmino, growing from the lesser considered element to the most prominent by the time of his departure.
The loss of Mane has brought an undeniable instability, as Jurgen Klopp works on a new attacking formula. Nunez has struck up a fine combination with Salah, but this has been at the cost of Diaz almost becoming an autonomous attacker, as he does his own thing.
Perhaps without even knowing it, with the presence of Nunez, Salah isn’t drifting into central areas as much as we’re accustomed to, and there are similarities to accommodating Nunez alongside Salah and Diaz to the ones we experienced when Ian Rush returned to Liverpool, upon where he upset the symbiosis of the Barnes, Beardsley, Aldridge triumvirate.
Back then, Rush eventually forged an excellent link with John Barnes but surprisingly failed to click with Peter Beardsley, the prodigal son never being as natural a fit within this trio as John Aldridge had been.
Going further back, Tony Hateley was purchased to add goals, which he did, but was soon jettisoned because the change in overall style was brought into question. With Nunez, we are unlikely to be as aesthetically pleasing as we have been in recent times.
Four points already dropped, off to a troubled Old Trafford we go next, without the services of Nunez. With Firmino having been absent against Crystal Palace and no sign yet of Diogo Jota, what next Monday will bring us in attacking terms is anyone’s guess, but a return to a trusted formula wouldn’t be a surprise, rather than any major experiments being launched.
Fine lines, both at Craven Cottage and on Monday night, and a late win might have been procured, but this Liverpool needs to start dealing in having games won early. There is plenty of domination, but not enough ruthlessness.
It will come, but will the hill be too big to climb by then?