Sign a centre-back! Liverpool winners and losers as Darwin Nunez double fails to paper over the cracks in Jurgen Klopp's defence

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The Reds showed impressive resilence to triumph at St James Park, but their backline just isn't good enough to sustain a title challenge

The quality of Darwin Nunez's finishing in Sunday's dramatic 2-1 win over Newcastle came as a welcome surprise - but the dreadful nature of the visitors' defending was neither welcome nor a surprise. Pre-season offered a painful reminder of the brittle nature of the Reds' backline and the start of the 2023-24 Premier League campaign has only hammered home the fact reinforcement is required before the close of the transfer window.

During his pre-match press conference, manager Jurgen Klopp had looked visibly frustrated by a question over whether Liverpool had sufficient strength in depth at the back to sustain a title challenge, but it was made abundantly clear at St James' Park that the long-mooted arrival of a left-sided centre-back simply has to materialise next week - particularly now with Virgil van Dijk facing a suspension for a straight red card.

A solution also has to be found to the long-standing Trent Alexander-Arnold conundrum, with the right-back continuing to prove a liability in defence. Here, he gifted Anthony Gordon a goal that should have seen Newcastle go on to easily defeat a side that was reduced to 10 men just moments later.

That they did not is obviously testament to Liverpool's character, manager and No.9. However, while the celebrations that followed the full-time whistle were totally justified, Nunez's late double should not be allowed to paper over the cracks in Liverpool's defence.

For the second game in a row, the Reds have managed to recover from shooting themselves in the foot - but sooner or later they will be made to pay for their fragility and now regular lapses in concentration unless they "go for it", as Jamie Carragher put it on Sky Sports, in the final week of the summer transfer window.

Below, GOAL breaks down the winners & losers from St James' Park...

  1. WINNER: Darwin Nunez

    WINNER: Darwin Nunez

    Boy, did Nunez need this! Left on the bench again, it actually appeared unlikely for the majority of the game the Uruguayan would see any game time at all, given it was Diogo Jota that Klopp first turned to in a desperate bid to turn the game around. It was yet further confirmation that Nunez is effectively Liverpool's fifth-choice forward.

    However, the No.9 got his chance to shine with just 13 minutes to go - and he made the absolutely most of it. Nunez has come in for a lot of criticism since arriving at Anfield, mainly because he has not looked like a £64 million striker on account of his horribly erratic finishing. Here, though, he took the two chances that came his way in the closing stages with aplomb, displaying the mix of precision and power that had people comparing Nunez to Erling Haaland this time last year.

    The 24-year-old still has a hell of a long way to go to get to that level - excelling on a consistent basis was his principal problem last season and there's no actual guarantee that he will even start next week. But this deadly double will have done wonders for his confidence and might just have kick-started his Liverpool career.

    Nunez, remember, had an average first season at Benfica before exploding into life in his second. Maybe history is about to repeat itself at Anfield...

  2. LOSER: Virgil van Dijk

    LOSER: Virgil van Dijk

    Liverpool successfully appealed Alexis Mac Allister's red card from last week's win over Bournemouth - but there is absolutely no chance of them overturning Van Dijk's dismissal here. The Dutchman was at first stunned by his sending-off, and then irate. He stayed on the pitch for a good two minutes after the decision, and even after belatedly making his way towards the tunnel, he stopped to remonstrate with the fourth official. It was embarrassing - particularly in his role as Liverpool's captain.

    Van Dijk's argument was obviously that he had taken the ball off Alexander Isak - but the fact of the matter was that he had only done so after sweeping the striker's right leg. It was a clear foul and, because of where the offence took place, a clear red card too.

    Van Djik's rashness means that the Reds will now be without their best defender for next Sunday's visit of Aston Villa, which is unforgivable, really, given the fragile nature of the defence. The centre-back was delighted to take on the responsibility of captaining the club but, once he's calmed down, he must also be willing to take responsibility for a stupid sending-off - and his pathetic reaction to the red.

  3. WINNER: Jurgen Klopp
    Getty Images

    WINNER: Jurgen Klopp

    It's obvious that there's no love lost between Liverpool and Newcastle's respective coaching teams, so this stunning come-from-behind victory will taste particularly sweet for Klopp. However, he will be even prouder of the way in which he turned the game around with his substitutions.

    Klopp never gave up on the game and made a number of positive moves during the second half. Indeed, it wasn't just about Nunez's double - he also injected some energy into an understandably tiring team by putting youngsters Harvey Elliott and Jarell Quansah on in place of Wataru Onda and Joel Matip. The introduction of Jota also saw Liverpool look threatening for the first time since before Van Dijk's dismissal.

    The coup de grace, though, was obviously taking off a midfielder in Mac Allister and replacing him with a No.9. It was a bold, adventurous move - as was the decision to bring on inexperienced youngster Quansah - and it was rightly rewarded.

  4. LOSER: Eddie Howe
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    LOSER: Eddie Howe

    By complete contrast, Eddie Howe completely botched this game. His side had both a goal and numerical advantage for more than an hour of play - yet ended up taking nothing out of a match that was there for the taking. Sad to say, that is all on the manager, with Howe failing dismally to transmit any sense of urgency to his players as it became evident during the second half that Liverpool were growing in confidence.

    None of his substitutions had any impact on the game, with even Howe himself admitting afterwards that he had erred in withdrawing Sandro Tonali and Gordon, who was terrorising Alexander-Arnold.

    In that sense, Newcastle got exactly what they deserved, with Howe justly punished for his shameful lack of adventure and completely mis-reading the game. As Pat Nevin pointed out in commentary on BBC Radio Five Live, only one side went looking for all three points after Nunez's equaliser - and it wasn't the hosts, who appeared bizarrely happy with a point against a 10-man top-four rival.

  5. WINNER: Alisson
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    WINNER: Alisson

    Where would Liverpool be without Alisson? Seriously, he has come to the Reds' rescue so many times, and particularly over the last year. Indeed, it's not been easy for him of late, with the Brazilian let down time and time again by an increasingly error-prone defence.

    He's also prone to the odd gaffe himself, of course, but that's obviously down to the fact that he's encouraged to take so many risks with his passing. And besides, he makes up for his rare mistakes by bailing his backline out of jail on a regular basis.

    Sunday was another incredible case in point. Alisson made seven saves in total - his most-ever in a Premier League game - and the way in which he managed to deflect a stinging volley from Miguel Almiron onto the bar was truly breath-taking. There is genuinely no better shot-stopper in the world right now.

  6. LOSER: Trent Alexander-Arnold

    LOSER: Trent Alexander-Arnold

    When Alexander-Arnold won a late throw-in deep in the Newcastle half, he celebrated vociferously in front of the visiting fans. In truth, though, he had played little part in Liverpool's comeback. On the contrary, he was one of the main reasons why they had found themselves in such a big hole in the first place.

    The England full-back was atrocious during the first half, so lucky not to see red before Van Dijk after taking out Gordon with a flailing arm just seconds after being booked for senselessly kicking the ball away. Then, he gifted Gordon a goal by making a mess of his attempt to control a straightforward pass from Mohamed Salah just inside his own half.

    The hope was that he might atone for that abysmal error by helping Liverpool get back into the game with his usually pinpoint passing and menacing crossing. However, the right-back's radar malfunctioned badly throughout, while he was tormented by Gordon until the winger was taken off late on.

    Alexander-Arnold is sometimes rather harshly made a scapegoat for all of Liverpool's defensive deficiencies, but his dreadful display at St James' Park will only intensify the debate that has long been raging over his suitability to the role of right-back.