Liverpool were held to a draw in their season opening fixture at Craven Cottage, drawing with Fulham 2-2.
Newly promoted Fulham started the game on the front foot, repeatedly pushing Liverpool back and dominating them in midfield. Marco Silva’s side won the EFL Championship by overwhelming teams from the first whistle, and they employed this tactic in their first game back in the top flight. It is a brave strategy, but for most of the match, it is one that paid off.
A sign of early Fulham pressure came in the opening seconds, when star striker Aleksandar Mitrovic found himself in space and fired past goalkeeper Alisson’s left post. It took Liverpool 15 minutes to even launch an attack with Luis Diaz smashing the ball into the back of the net, before being ruled offside.
Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah’s involvement in attacking play was highly limited in the first half due to a fantastic defensive display from Fulham, especially with left back Antonee Robinson making a number of impressive interceptions and blocks. The Reds were also repeatedly dominated in midfield, with Fulham continuously winning 50-50 challenges and making committed tackles. New signing Joao Palhinha was the essential factor in Fulham’s midfield, winning more duels (5) and making more tackles (4) than any other player in the first half alone.
While Liverpool looked distracted and ruffled, Fulham kept a high tempo throughout the first half. Neeskens Kebano and Bobby Decordova-Reid caused problems in the wider areas of the pitch, and it took a last minute block from left back Andrew Robertson to stop Reed’s goalbound shot. Robertson and Alexander-Arnold, who are usually so potent for Liverpool in attack, were held back throughout the match due to the amount of pressure Fulham put them under.
The Cottagers got their reward in the 32nd minute when right back Kenny Tete found Mitrovic in the box, who was able to evade Alexander-Arnold at the back post and head the ball into the back of the net. It was a devastating blow, but it was one that Fulham deserved.
Liverpool continued to look toothless as the first half came to a close. Klopp decided to make no changes during half-time, but was forced into making a change six minutes into the second half after Thiago Alcantara pulled up, holding his hamstring. This is a worrying sign for both the manager and Liverpool fans, and may force Klopp to rethink his previous stance on not needing to sign another midfielder. Former Fulham player Harvey Elliott replaced the injured Spaniard. Fulham continued to pile on the pressure, with Kebano narrowly hitting the post and Mitrovic relentlessly causing Liverpool’s centre backs problems through the middle.
Only when Klopp decided to sub on midfielder James Milner and new striker Darwin Nunez did Liverpool work their way back into the game. Nunez, who scored against Manchester City in the Community Shield last weekend, immediately caused the previously untroubled Fulham backline difficulties. Standing tall at 6”1 with incredible speed, Nunez’s movement is unpredictable, and he frequently began to find space behind Fulham’s defence that had not been found in the first hour of the game. The striker was rewarded for his efforts with an excellent backheel goal that drew The Reds level. He could have two in quick succession, but his effort a couple of minutes later was cleared off the line.
Just as Liverpool were beginning to find their attacking rhythm, Fulham took the ball once again into Liverpool’s box. Mitrovic was clipped on the knee by Van Dijk, causing the striker to go down and for referee Andy Medley to award a penalty. The Serbian striker slotted the ball into the bottom right corner, putting the newly promoted side back ahead in the 72nd minute.
Mohamed Salah calmly scored after a deft touch from Nunez in the box for Liverpool’s second equaliser. This goal means that Salah has now scored in six successive opening weekends and he is the first player to achieve this in Premier League history. His effort was not enough to secure the 3 points for The Reds though, and the points were shared after an action packed 90 minutes at Craven Cottage. After heroic displays from Fulham players across the pitch, a point is the least that they deserved
‘We played a really bad game and got a point, so that’s all true as well,’ admitted Jurgen Klopp in his post match interview. ‘The attitude was not right in the beginning… the way we played is not how we should play.’ When asked about Thiago Alcantara’s injury that forced The Reds into a change, Klopp stressed that Thiago will have to undergo further assessment to determine the severity of his injury.
Fulham manager Marco Silva meanwhile was full of praise for his side’s performance, commenting that the first half was ‘nearly perfect’ and ‘we matched them every time’ throughout the game. ‘Why should we be intimidated? We have to trust in ourselves, we have to trust to stick with the plan as well and we showed fantastic organisation from the start to the end of the match.’