•The Uruguay international started as a substitute but won a late penalty which Mohamed Salah converted to put Liverpool 2-1 up, then scored his first competitive goal for the club to “put the icing on the cake” of his performance.
•Liverpool won the FA Cup and Carabao Cup last season as they fell short in their quest for an unprecedented quadruple.
The season-opening Community Shield between Liverpool and Manchester City was billed as a battle of two new strikers - and there was no doubting who came out on top.
Reds supporters have a new hero in Darwin Nunez, who immediately showed what prompted the club to pay Benfica £64m with a debut to remember.
The Uruguay international started as a substitute but won a late penalty which Mohamed Salah converted to put Liverpool 2-1 up, then scored his first competitive goal for the club to “put the icing on the cake” of his performance.
At the other end of the pitch, Erling Haaland had a first game to forget as the Norwegian missed opportunities in front of the goal which contributed to his side’s 3-1 defeat.
Asked if he had any worries about the £52.2m forward’s performance, City boss Pep Guardiola said: “No. He has incredible quality and he will do it. He has an incredible sense.
“The team was good in stages and I am very comfortable with what we have seen in pre-season. The season starts now.”
‘Strikers are special species’
Liverpool won the FA Cup and Carabao Cup last season as they fell short in their quest for an unprecedented quadruple.
Sadio Mane, who was instrumental alongside Salah and Roberto Firmino in the club’s recent trophy successes, left in the summer to join Bayern Munich. And Nunez was brought in as the Senegal international’s replacement, having impressed by scoring against the Reds in the knockout stage of the Champions League last season.
In pre-season, there were social media jibes— which manager Jurgen Klopp described as “a joke” — about the player’s first touch, but the 23-year-old emphatically shot down any doubters by scoring four goals in the friendly against RB Leipzig. And he made the dream start to life in England by coming off the bench to head in his team’s third goal at the King Power Stadium.
Nunez’s close-range finish came right in front of the Reds fans and he was serenaded with the chanting of his name as he wheeled away to celebrate.
Just as Klopp was being asked about Nunez’s impact, a replay of the goal came up on a television screen and the German pointed and smiled, before replying: “Good, very good and he will get better with time.
“When he came on, we passed each ball for him to chase it. He dealt with it brilliantly. We are patient and we know he can do good stuff. His impact today from the bench was exceptional, as with everyone who came on.”
Nunez had an opportunity just five minutes after entering the action but his shot was saved by Ederson, and he was instrumental for the second goal as his header hit Ruben Dias on the arm and Salah converted the penalty.
After Jordan Henderson lifted the trophy with his customary jig, Nunez led the celebrations by popping a bottle of champagne and spraying it in the air.
“We all know strikers are a special species,” added Klopp. “Everyone needs positives and for a striker that is goals and goal involvement.
“Darwin would have been fine without scoring the third one because the penalty came from his header, and the chance he had before where he reacted brilliantly.
“He put the icing on the cake and I’m really pleased for him. You could see on everyone’s faces how happy they are and that is a really good sign.”
Haaland ‘is going to help us’
Manchester City pipped Liverpool to the Premier League title last season by a single point, scoring 99 goals in the process, to claim their fourth top-flight triumph in the past five years.
But they have made significant changes in their attacking line-up, with Raheem Sterling sold to Chelsea for £50m and Gabriel Jesus leaving to join Arsenal for £45m.
In came the much-vaunted Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, following a prolific spell in Germany in which he scored an astonishing 86 goals in 89 games. But he had an off day in front of goal, seeing a first-half effort pushed away by Adrian and mistiming another strike while on the stretch.
In fact, Haaland’s showing was overshadowed by fellow debutant Julian Alvarez - the Argentine coming on as a substitute and poking in the equaliser for his side. “He [Haaland] had chances, two or three in the first half and one at the end,” said Guardiola. “He made the movements and it is good for him to understand and see the reality of a new country and new league.
“He was there but didn’t score.”
As the new central striker— a role City have not utilised on a regular basis since the departure of Sergio Aguero— the team will need to adapt to him as much as he has to adapt to them.
There was one point in the second half when Kevin de Bruyne showed his frustration after Haaland did not move for a pass, and the striker was equally angry at Riyad Mahrez for having a shot at goal when he felt a pass was the better option.
A disappointing day was compounded in the final minute when Haaland missed a sitter - hitting the crossbar from a couple of yards out after Adrian’s parry fell perfectly into his path.
In all, Haaland had just 16 touches of the ball in his 97 minutes on the pitch, completing seven of only nine passes he attempted in the game.
Guardiola added: “He is strong and the other times he will put it in the net, that is football. It is good to understand sometimes in a situation where he has to think, ‘OK what do I do?’
“I am absolutely not concerned or worried about that (miss). He is going to help us.”