When a stud player makes a big move from one of the top European leagues and joins a Premier League side, English pundits love to talk about what a hard transition it will be as the player attempts to adapt to the speed and force of the Best League In The World. I usually find these warnings to be overstated—the best Premier League teams are pretty good at scouting, and if a guy is truly a world-class player worthy of a big transfer fee, he usually doesn’t have much trouble getting into a groove. Just look at Luis Díaz, who joined Liverpool from Porto last January and almost immediately became one of the team’s best players.
Ah, but then look at Díaz’s newest teammate, Uruguayan striker Darwin Núñez, who was plucked from Benfica for a huge sum by Liverpool this past summer, and is being relied upon to juice Liverpool’s attack enough that the Reds can continue to keep pace with Manchester City. During Monday’s game against Crystal Palace, Núñez provided some credence to the idea that not everyone is built for immediate Premier League success.
Núñez failed to capitalize on a couple big chances in front of goal, and then in the second half, with his team trailing 1-0 and having a hard time breaking down Crystal Palace’s defense, he went and did this:
Oh, buddy, you can’t do that!
What’s more telling than the headbutt itself is everything that led up to it. Here you can see a helpful collection of clips demonstrating exactly how Palace defender Joachim Andersen systematically goaded Núñez into a Zidane moment. Núñez didn’t just lose his cool all of a sudden; Andersen spent nearly an hour slowly chipping away at his opponent’s patience, hoping that things would end exactly as they did.
What’s remarkable about those clips is that they don’t show Andersen doing anything all that out of the ordinary. He’s being annoying, sure, and going out of his way to bump and tussle with Núñez whenever he can, but that’s just kind of what center backs do in the Premier League, particularly in games where one side is a huge underdog. To be a star attacker on one of the two best teams in the league is to be a guy who is going to have to deal with some big galoot stepping on you and delivering forearm shivers every single weekend. You just have to deal with it!
Luckily for Núñez, it was Díaz who came to the rescue a few minutes after the sending-off to tie up the game and salvage a point for Liverpool:
Liverpool will be fine, and will surely rack up another obscene point total this season, but their start to the season couldn’t have gone much worse. They drew 2-2 with a freshly promoted Fulham side in the first week, and needed what will end up being one of the goals of the season to escape a home loss to Crystal Palace. And now their big-money striker is going to be suspended for the next couple games, which wouldn’t be such a huge problem on its own if not for the fact that Liverpool’s other striking options, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota, are both dealing with injuries. It feels silly to do any fretting over two consecutive draws and a suspension, but only until you remember what fine margins Liverpool is up against every season. Twice in the last four years Liverpool has missed out on the Premier League title by a one-point margin between them and Manchester City, and this season City have Erling Haaland around to help add to their total. Liverpool goes into every season with a title as the goal and City as their main obstacle to achieving it, and that is a set of circumstances that leaves very little room for mistakes. Núñez made a big one, but at least he has this going for him: Liverpool plays Manchester United next week.