Jurgen Klopp claimed Darwin Nunez was "provoked" after his striker was sent off for butting Joachim Andersen in a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace at Anfield.
The summer signing's red card in his first start in English football compounded Liverpool's tough start to the season with an injury-ravaged squad which has left the Liverpool manager feeling like he has had a “witch in the building.”
The £80million forward was dismissed before the hour mark and will be suspended for three games - starting with Monday’s eagerly-awaited visit to Manchester United - with Klopp's side yet to register a Premier League win this season.
Klopp did not excuse Nunez's behaviour, but did claim that he had been provoked into his actions and warned he will have to adapt to such treatment.
“I’ve seen it back, of course it’s a red card,” said Klopp. “In the game, I could not see anything, Andersen on the floor and Darwin walking away. Then I saw it, yes it was a red card, wrong reaction.
“He was provoked all the time but, of course, that is not how you should behave. He knows that now himself. I will talk to him; it makes no sense for me to talk too much about it now in public.
“When you see it, it’s absolutely not the reaction you want to see. The challenge from the centre-halves in the Premier League will do that to him. They want to have him, he’s a handful and that’s not a reaction.”
The Uruguay International also became the first Liverpool player sent off for violent conduct under Klopp’s management, but his manager believed that the former Benfica star will learn from his error and will hand him an extra bout of “pre-season” training during his suspension.
“There is always a first time,” said Klopp. “But now he has another ‘pre-season'. I don’t know exactly how long he will be suspended.
“So we will use it for physical work. Not as punishment, just to make him even stronger and that is what we will try.”
To make matters worse, the new summer signing then protested and delayed leaving the field, until being urged to do so by Klopp and James Milner, who “marched” him off the Anfield pitch.
“I didn’t see the incident,” said Milner. “He’s going to be disappointed with that and it’s down to us to get round him, rally and try to learn from it. But the reaction was the important thing. The team reacted very well and the ground reacted very well as it always does. We could have nicked a win but it wasn’t to be and we move on.”
Liverpool have now dropped four points in their opening two drawn games, placing them the same number behind defending champions Manchester City.
But after an injury-ravaged start to the campaign with seven potential starters were out of the squad last night, Klopp could at least cling to the fact his side is also undefeated.
“It’s not what we wanted but that’s the least of my problems,” said Klopp. “We have a situation, really tricky, with injuries and how we manage them.
“So we have to use the next week to maybe bring one or two back and now we lost Darwin that doesn’t help, but Bobby Firmino might be ready for next week. So yeah, it’s not a concern, it’s just the start. In the end, if we have two points in May, then it’s difficult. Now, in the moment, it’s fine.”
The injury list, which even saw England defender Joe Gomez unfit to play a full 90 minutes, has been particularly hard in defence. And, with three academy players, who would have been in contention for the bench, also ruled out, Klopp was without ten first team squad members.
“The real feeling I have at the moment is I am proud, everything in the week went against us,” said Klopp.
“The week was crazy. It was like we had a witch in the building, honestly. Every day somebody else pulled out for the craziest reasons.
“In the end, Joey didn’t start – and Nat (Phillips) did really well, I have to say. Bobby couldn’t make it. Hendo (Jordan Henderson) this morning we got the information there’s a little concern about something if he plays too long, so he didn’t play that long.
“That’s the situation. It was not too cool. But the game we made of it, I really liked it. That’s how it is. We want to fight and I saw that a lot, and we played really good stuff.”
Palace manager Patrick Vieira paid tribute to the performances of Eberechi Eze and Wilfried Zaha who combined for a shock opening goal.
“In possession we all know what they are capable of doing but today we needed a big performance out of possession,” he said. “Wilfried didn’t show any frustration, he didn’t have many touches. The goal you saw the talent of both players.”