Darwin Nunez’s influence was almost immediate. By the time he arrived six minutes into the second half, Liverpool were tepid and repeatedly battered by Fulham’s energy. Uruguay’s speed and directness quickly put the newly promoted team behind. The man’s first goal in the Premier League worth 85 million pounds, a smart strike, came within 15 minutes of his presentation, and he also played his part in the equalizer scored by Mohamed Salah.
Today was also the property of another striker. Aleksandar Mitrovic, who scored 43 goals in the league last season and tried to discredit his lack of participation in the Premier League, scored twice. The first was a typical header, the second a penalty converted after a foul by Virgil van Dijk to suggest he and Fulham could belong in the First Division after all.
While a draw in the season-opener isn’t a disaster for Liverpool, much of their performance, which saw Van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold feud and attack drop until Nunez’ arrival, should worry Jurgen Klopp. Jordan Henderson hit the crossbar in the final seconds, but that was still an escape for last season’s runner-up.
There were problems in the opening seconds as Mitrovic got space and time to shoot near Alisson’s left post. He should have done a lot better, but this wasn’t his last chance. Fulham played lightly from the whistle and pushed Liverpool into the midfield. Meanwhile, her opponents looked dazed and distracted, and their frustration was reflected in Allison delivering a powerful shock to the lower tier of the new Riverside runway.
Liverpool did not start an attack until the 15th minute, and although Luis Diaz shot the ball into the net, he was already judged for offside. On Salah’s first attempt at goal, he went horribly off his head to loud shouts after becoming disoriented in the southwest London sun. Fulham left-back Anthony Robinson was better than the Liverpool star in the first half, but he lost to Nunez’s goal, who put him on the table with an Egyptian cross.
Until the sweeping changes in the second half, Klopp’s selection reflected Bill Shankly’s old term “like last season”, with Firmino the central striker and Diaz coming from the left side of the Trident. Fulham promotion star Fabio Carvalho sat on the bench alongside Nunez, as the inclusion of youngsters Stefan Bajcetic (17), Sepp van den Berg (20) and Luke Chambers (18) was evidence of his pre-season injury crisis. .
Marco Silva’s approach was no different. Only two newcomers were introduced to Joao Balinha and Andreas Pereira, both of whom are in midfield. This continuity allowed Fulham to try what Liverpool did to the competition’s opponents last season: keeping them off kick-off. It was a bold strategy, but it had the desired effect. Mitrovic weighed heavily on Joel Matip and Van Dijk, while Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold’s attacking details were slowed down by passes from Bobby Decordova-Reed and Neskens Kebanu, as well as a busy and impressive Pereira pass. Meanwhile, Thiago Alcantara was Harrison Reed’s constant companion.
Robertson needed to block Reed’s shot on target and then Kebanu’s cross was hurriedly turned away while Mitrovic waited. The first goal of the Serbs soon followed, a move that started from Pereira before Reed and Kibano sent Kenny Titi away. Alexander-Arnold, at the back post, had no answer to Mitrivic’s strength and scoring instinct, and questions about the England player’s defense were once again raised.
Liverpool responded, Diaz hit the ball out of the corner with a powerful shot, but by the time Klopp ran into the dressing room in the first half, he had plenty of problems to deal with. When Thiago came off with a muscle injury six minutes into the second half, he was replaced by former Fulham player Harvey Elliott, while Klopp also opted to replace Firmino with Nuñez.
Fulham kept pressing. Mitrovic’s solo run made the audience scream in approval while holding Van Dijk back, then Kebanu hit the post and knocked Alison. Fabinho was soon dismissed when James Milner’s experiment was revealed.
Klopp’s changes take effect. Previously outperforming against Firmino, Tim Ream struggled with a Nunez move and the forward’s back shovel preceded a similar effort that was parried by Marek Rodak. A clever touch helped Salah equalize and score his sixth goal in a row in the first few weekends, signaling the start of a partnership that could soon make Sadio Mane history.
But that came after Mitrovic tricked Van Dijk with a Serb penalty kick on a day two strikers were involved in the Premier League.