Núñez and Salah deny Fulham’s dream departure after Mitrovic torments Liverpool | premier league

Darwin Núñez’s impact was almost immediate. Until arriving six minutes into the second half, Liverpool had been listless, often beaten to the punch by Fulham’s energy. The Uruguayan’s speed and directness quickly put the promoted side on the back foot. The £85million man’s first Premier League goal, a clever back heel, came within 15 minutes of his introduction, and he also played his part in Mohamed Salah’s equalizer.

The day also belonged to another striker. Aleksandar Mitrovic, who scored 43 league goals last season and is trying to overturn the reputation of being short on class in the Premier League, has scored twice. The first was a header, the second a converted penalty after a foul from Virgil van Dijk, to suggest he and Fulham might be in the Premier League after all.

Although drawing the opening game of the season was not a disaster for Liverpool, much of their performance, in which Van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold struggled and the attack was brutal until the end arrival of Núñez, should be a concern for Jürgen Klopp. Jordan Henderson hit the bar in the closing seconds, but it was still a breakaway for last season’s finalists.

The problems came from the first seconds when Mitrovic had space and time to shoot past Alisson’s left post. He should have done a lot better but it wouldn’t be his last chance. Fulham played briskly from the whistle, squeezing Liverpool in midfield. Meanwhile, their opponents looked dazed, distracted, their frustrations mirrored by Alisson angrily slamming a clearance into the lower tier of the new Riverside Stand.

It took until the 15th minute for Liverpool to mount an attack, and although Luis Díaz smashed the ball into the net, he had already been ruled offside. Salah’s first goal attempt saw him head horribly towards a boisterous mockery, after losing his bearings in the south-west London sun. Fulham left-back Antonee Robinson got the better of Liverpool’s star man in the first half, although he lost it to Núñez’s goal, which was put down on a plate by the Egyptian cross.

Until drastic changes in the second half, Klopp’s selection had echoed Bill Shankly’s old idiom “just like last season”, with Firmino the most central striker and Díaz coming from the left of the trident. Fábio Carvalho, a star of Fulham’s promotion campaign, joined Núñez on a bench where the inclusion of youngsters Stefan Bajcetic, 17, Sepp van den Berg, 20, and Luke Chambers, 18, was proof from a pre-season injury crisis.

Marco Silva’s approach was no different. Only two new signings in João Palhinha and Andreas Pereira have been introduced, both in midfield. Such continuity has allowed Fulham to try to do to Liverpool what they did to Championship opponents last season: keep them away from kick-off. It was a brave strategy but one that had the desired effect. Joël Matip and Van Dijk were given a heavy workload by Mitrovic while the attacking details of Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold were limited by runs from Bobby Decordova-Reid and Neeskens Kebano, and the death of the impressive Pereira. Thiago Alcântara, meanwhile, had Harrison Reed as his constant companion.

Aleksandar Mitrovic greets Fulham fans after scoring his second goal of the afternoon against Liverpool. Photography: Peter Cziborra/Action Images/Reuters

It took Robertson’s full-back to block a Reed shot into the goal and then Kebano’s cross was quickly cleared as Mitrovic hid. The Serbian’s first goal soon followed, the move started by Pereira before Reed and Kebano fired Kenny Tete. Alexander-Arnold at the far post had no answer to Mitriovic’s power and goalscoring instinct, and questions about the Englishman’s defense will once again be raised.

Liverpool responded, Díaz smashing the ball out of the angle with a powerful, curling shot, but as Klopp raced towards the dressing room at half-time he had plenty of issues to deal with. When Thiago retired 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 Núñez.

Fulham continued to press. A solo canter from Mitrovic had the crowd howling in appreciation, holding off Van Dijk as he did, then Kebano hit a post with Alisson beaten. Fabinho quickly left when James Milner’s experience was introduced.

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Klopp’s changes have started to take effect. Tim Ream, previously outstanding against Firmino, struggled with Núñez’s movement, and the striker’s backheel goal was preceded by a similar attempt which was well saved by Marek Rodak. A deft touch helped Salah score the second equalizer and his sixth consecutive goal on the opening weekends, to hint at the beginnings of a partnership that could soon relegate Sadio Mané to history.

But that came after Mitrovic tried Van Dijk in the foul from which the Serb kicked in his penalty, on a day when two strikers announced themselves in the Premier League.

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