Sparkling Darwin Nunez spares Liverpool's blushes as Aleksandar Mitrovic spreads mayhem

Mohamed Salah (left) congratulates Darwin Núñez after the Uruguayan scored on his Premier League debutCredit: GETTY IMAGES

It takes almost 100 points to win the Premier League these days, in the modern footballing world that Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool have helped to create, and the German will know better than anyone that every result counts in this draining division.

Such are Liverpool’s standards, and such are the requirements of teams who want to compete with Manchester City, that every draw can feel like a defeat. That could be seen on the faces of Klopp’s players at the final whistle here, when Fulham’s energy and intensity was rewarded with a point the home side fully deserved.

Klopp, speaking a few minutes later, insisted he was more concerned by the performance than the result. He knew that Liverpool had not played like the Liverpool we have come to expect in recent seasons, and that this opening-day draw could easily have been a defeat were it not for the game-changing exploits of their record signing Darwin Núñez and Egypt international Mohamed Salah.

The optimism of a new season can be a powerful force and, at a febrile Craven Cottage, Fulham defied expectations. Marco Silva’s side were regarded by many as fresh meat for Liverpool to devour, but instead they proved to be genuinely tough opponents as the mighty Aleksandar Mitrovic landed the first two blows on Klopp’s defence this season.

As well as the stodgy nature of the performance, which only improved following Núñez’s arrival as a second-half substitute, there was further worry for Liverpool in midfield. Klopp is already short of options due to a series of injuries, and here he lost Thiago Alcantara to a muscular problem.

Darwin Nunez helped Liverpool avoid defeat against spirited FulhamCredit: Getty Images

The calls for Liverpool to invest in a new midfielder, with England’s Jude Bellingham known to be high on the list of targets, will only grow louder now. Klopp is a sensible manager, though, and Liverpool are a sensible club. “It is not that we lack midfielders,” he said. “But this is not a good situation. We have to see how we react [to injuries], and not panic.”

It was in midfield where Liverpool struggled for much of this game, with Thiago and Jordan Henderson unable to exert their usual control. Fulham were aggressive throughout, tackling hard and pressing fast, and the courage of the home players was fundamental in blocking Liverpool’s usual attacking avenues.

At least there was one positive: the performance of Núñez. The former Benfica striker could cost up to £85 million after add-ons and it is clear why Liverpool felt he was worth the investment. His off-the-ball movement terrified the Fulham defence in the second half, when he might have scored three despite Liverpool’s lack of fluency.

The best players in Klopp’s teams are generally characterised by their hunger, on and off the ball, and Núñez seems to play with that same wide-eyed urgency. His touch was a little wobbly at times, and he is clearly not on the same wavelength as all of his team-mates, but his predatory instincts are obvious. More goals will certainly follow, especially once Liverpool find their normal rhythm.

Aleksandar Mitrovic headed Fulham into the lead Credit: AFP

Klopp was critical of the attitude of his players, and said a dry pitch did not help their cause. It was clear from the opening minutes that Fulham were keen to make their presence felt, with Mitrovic presenting problems almost immediately and Joao Palhinha, a £17m signing from Sporting Lisbon, dominating the midfield.

Pity poor Trent Alexander-Arnold, marooned at the back post in the first half with a pumped-up Mitrovic breathing down his neck and the ball dropping towards his head. It is a position no defender would like to be in, and Alexander-Arnold was promptly buffeted by the sheer force of Mitrovic’s sizeable frame. The ball was smashed, too, off the Serbian’s head and into Liverpool’s net.

The ferocity of Fulham’s first-half performance would have immediately allayed some fears of their supporters, who would have been alarmed by Silva’s comments a week ago. The Fulham head coach, unhappy with the speed of the club’s transfer business, declared his squad not ready to compete in the Premier League.

Mind games? Perhaps, although there is no questioning whether Silva’s annoyance is genuine. Fulham are in need of more players, even if new signings Bernd Leno, Shane Duffy and Manor Solomon are still to come into the team.

Jurgen Klopp was unhappy with Liverpool's start to the gameCredit: AP

For Liverpool, by contrast, it was a familiar side but an unfamiliar struggle. The passes were not flowing as they usually would, the chances not materialising. Luis Díaz struck the top of the post, and almost converted Andrew Robertson’s low cross, but that was all Klopp’s side could muster before the break.

Changes were necessary and Núñez soon emerged for his first taste of Premier League football. Within a few minutes the ball was nicked off his toes by Fulham captain Tim Ream, who then set up Neeskens Kebano for a fierce shot that struck the foot of the post.

Even an out-of-sorts Liverpool will eventually cause problems, though.

Núñez soon tested Fulham goalkeeper Marek Rodak with a flicked effort, and seconds later he had found the net with the exact same technique, from Salah’s cross.

But Mitrovic was not to be outdone. Charging into the penalty box once more, he goaded Virgil van Dijk into an uncharacteristically silly challenge. Penalty won, and penalty then converted by Fulham’s talisman.

Virgil van Dijk conceded a rare penalty against LiverpoolCredit: GETTY IMAGED

If only it had been the final minute, Fulham might have felt confident of holding on. But Liverpool had time to regroup, and to equalise for a second time.

Alexander-Arnold’s deep pass caused panic in the Fulham defence, and Nunez’s touch allowed Salah to roll the ball into the empty net. Salah has now scored in Liverpool’s opening Premier League game in each of his six seasons at the club.

Liverpool pushed for a winner, with Jordan Henderson striking the bar in stoppage time, but Fulham ultimately held on for the point they merited.


    Fulham 2 Liverpool 2: As it happened

    Think Van Dijk's face tells you it was a penalty

    Credit: GETTY IMAGES

    Jurgen Klopp speaks

    The best thing about the game was a result, that we get the point from a really bad performance on our side.

    From the start the attitude was not right and we played into all their cards, then it is difficult to come back. When we did find some direction, we had probably the better chances. 

    There is massive room for improvement. We started the game completely the opposite of how we wanted to start it.

    We could have won but that would have been a bit too much today.

    Marco Silva speaks

    We respect them but also we have to do our job and trust ourselves. We showed fantastic organisation and worked to our plan. The first half was almost perfect, they way we controlled the team. 

    They (Liverpool) have players who can decide the game in an individual way or a collective way. In the second half we dropped some intensity which is part of the game.

    If someone thinks Mitro is just goals, forget it. The job he did for the defence and the midfielders, the work without the ball was fantastic.

    Some post match facts

    • Fulham have avoided defeat in their first game back in the top-flight after promotion for the first time ever
    • Liverpool are now unbeaten in their last 20 Premier League games
    • Liverpool gave away a penalty for the first time in their last 52 Premier League games
    • Liverpool have gained 115 points from losing positions under Klopp in the Premier League, more than any other side in that period

    Salah an opening day specialist

    Mentality monsters

    FT: Fulham 2 Liverpool 2

    What a cracker of a game. Both clubs can feel happy enough with the result. Fulham's for obvious reasons, and their team performance was outstanding. Liverpool because they were unimaginably bad for an hour, and Darwin Nunez looked worth every penny when he came on. 

    94 minutes

    Fulham left-back Robinson excels in the challenge yet again. Summer signing Shane Duffy comes on for the closing minute - could he have been introduced earlier? 

    Henderson hits the bar! What an effort from more than 25 yards, the ball running across his body. He swept it with his right foot over Rodak who was beaten but the ball clattered off the woodwork. Might be the last moment of excitement.

    92 minutes

    Some scruffy play from both sets of players, perhaps feeling the effect of a warm day in London, but Liverpool eventually establish possession. Both Robinson and then Ream defend well against Salah before Mitrovic does brilliantly again to drag Fulham up the pitch.

    90 minutes

    Fulham do have a throw deep in the Liverpool half. Some much needed territory for the home team. 

    There will be FIVE minutes of added time! That gees up the Liverpool fans in the away end.

    88 minutes

    Tete and Robinson have done really well defensively at full-back. Marco Silva is about to bring midfielder Tom Cairney on, who can help them keep the ball. Fulham would sign for a point right now.

    Liverpool's equaliser

    Credit: Reuters

    86 minutes

    Fulham look slightly unsure whether they should play forward or look to retain the ball conservatively. Dancing feet from Elliott down the right but Fulham defend before Mitrovic throws himself over to win the foul.

    83 minutes

    No let up from Fulham here, and they have a throw deep in the Liverpool half after Alexander-Arnold cleared a cross. Then Robinson's delivery from the left is too heavy and goes out for a throw. Good covering defending from Ream but Liverpool looking so dangerous now. Fine work from Decordova-Reid and Tete to win a foul.

    GOOOAAAALLL! Liverpool are level

    It was a scruffy goal but Liverpool will not care. Alexander-Arnold chipped the ball into the box, and the ball skimmed off Ream's head and fell for Nunez, and he knocked the ball into Salah's path for the simplest of finishes. What a finish we are in for now.

    79 minutes

    Liverpool are repeatedly progressing to the Fulham penalty area now but the home team are just about standing firm. A Liverpool corner skims off a Fulham head, but Carvalho could not keep the volley from the edge of the area down. 

    The penalty incident

    Credit: Getty Images

    76 minutes

    Nunez with another effort, this time from a tight angle in the right channel but he dragged the volley wide of the far post. Liverpool are about to bring Carvalho on against his former club.

    74 minutes

    Not long before the penalty incident Salah saw a header tipped over the bar. Nunez has been electric since coming on and sparked significant improvement in the team performance but Liverpool are behind again. Can Fulham now hold on?

    GOAL! Mitrovic converts

    What a game he has had. Just at it looked like it would be a matter of time before Liverpool found the second the game has swung back towards the home team again. 

    70 minutes: FULHAM PENALTY!

    Mitrovic backed Van Dijk into the penalty area, and he showed good feet to shift the ball to his left and the Dutchman stuck out an outstretched leg and tripped him. There was not loads of contact, but he definitely impeded the forward.

    Instant impact

    66 minutes

    Television have given the goal to Darwin Nunez, but that might be reviewed by the Premier League as the game progresses. 

    Nunez looking dangerous again after a long ball forward, but Fulham get back to clear after he tried to squeeze a shot beyond Rodak. 

    Correction: replays show it was Nunez's goal. The ball bounced off Adarabioyo but back on to Nunez's foot and into the net. A stroke of luck but that is a debut goal. 

    GOOOAAALLL! Liverpool level through an own goal

    Almost a carbon copy of the chance Nunez just missed. Nice interplay from Henderson and Elliott in midfield, and Salah rolled the ball across for Nunez who went for the flick but it may have been turned in by the toe of Adarabioyo.

    61 minutes

    That was a big let off for Fulham with Adarabioyo caught on the ball in their buid-up, but Nunez tried to square when he had the chance to put his laces through it. James Milner has replaced Fabinho for Liverpool. 

    Nunes goes close! Salah feeds a ball across the six-yard box and Nunez backheels it at the near post but Rodak made the starfish save.

    Scrutiny on Trent Alexander-Arnold

    58 minutes

    Liverpool are really struggling here, it is like they are running through treacle, they do not look ready for this game. Fulham are all over them, and Kebano hits the post! Cracking effort from the right across Alisson, who was well beaten. Hit the inside of the woodwork but bounced out.

    55 minutes

    Fulham's aggression causing problems again and forcing mistakes, but Robinson eventually fouls Matip. The home team could not possibly have executed this game plan any better. 

    Dangerous counter attack for Fulham but Decordova-Reid went the wrong way.

    52 minutes

    Darwin Nunez has replaced Firmino and has gone straight through the middle. Elliott on for Thiago. Kebano in space down the right but he was well offside and the flag eventually went up. 

    Ream lets the ball bounce in his own area rather than volleying away and Liverpool win a corner. Pin ball in the box, but Nunez is flagged for offside and Fulham breathe a sigh of relief.

    49 minutes

    Kebano slipped at the vital moment down the right when he looked poised to cross.

    There are some Liverpool changes coming: Harvey Elliott, the former Fulham player, and Darwin Nunez are about to come on to offer some more creativity and goal threat.

    The physio is on and is rubbing Thiago's thigh which is a worry for Liverpool.

    47 minutes

    Fulham have at least started the half with some territory, it is imperative they do not drop too deep, too early. Sometimes Liverpool give you no choice, though.

    Lovely play from Pereira and Robinson down the left but Matip heads the cross away. It came from Fulham winning the ball back in midfield again.

    We're back under way in the second half!

    Will this be a classic case of a tale of two halves? No changes for either side, but you feel sure we will see Darwin Nunez at some stage. He was warming up at the break.

    Is this the year he makes the step up and delivers Premier League goals?

    Craven Cottage has a new hero

    HT: Fulham 1 Liverpool 0

    Liverpool fans will disagree, but that was a welcome surprise given predictions of a formality. 

    Fulham have almost out-Liverpooled Liverpool: they have been tigerish in the challenge, stronger physically, and Palhinha and Mitrovic have bullied their opposite numbers at times. Their three central pairings of Ream-Adarabioyo, Reed-Palhinha and Mitrovic-Pereira have stayed really tight and blocked Liverpool off in a compact 4-4-2. 

    Is this set up for Darwin Nunez to save the day?

    Two minutes of added time

    Fulham just need to manage the game now. Diaz found himself free at the back post but his header is harmless and Rodak claims.

    44 minutes

    Fulham have looked the physically stronger and more intense side today, and you almost never say that against Liverpool. Van Dijk pressed and his is unable to play forward with any quality. Mitrovic almost scoops a lovely through ball for Pereira but Matip cut it out. He would have been clean through.

    42 minutes

    Mitrovic is putting a hell of a defensive shift in, but he is always at risk of conceding fouls as he did there. Fulham starting to sink a little deeper in their shape now, so important they get through to half time. They get a breather when Alexander-Arnold controls the ball with his hand after a bad touch. 

    Mitrovic's header

    Credit: AFP

    39 minutes

    If Liverpool are to equalise it looks like coming via their left flank. Diaz makes room for a left-footed shot in the area from a tight angle, and it was a cracking strike that kissed the crossbar. Diaz the pick of their front three so far. 

    37 minutes

    You would still back Liverpool to respond but they have been a shadow of their usual selves so far. That goal was not against the run of play. 

    That was better though. Alexander-Arnold switches play to the other full-back Robertson, and his ball across goal is not far away from the outstretched leg on Diaz. 

    Alexander-Arnold beaten at the back post

    GOOOOOAAAALL! Mitrovic heads Fulham into the lead

    Well, well, this is a turn up for the books. Henderson was down holding his ankle and Fulham broke clear down the right side. Kebano just stayed onside, and fed right-back Tete on the overlap, who chipped a peach of a ball to the back stick where Mitrovic came crashing in with a textbook centre-forwards header. Too much power for Alisson and Fulham lead!

    31 minutes

    Fulham with another couple of nearly moments! Robinson stands up a cross to the edge of the box, and Reed struck the shot sweetly but Robertson made the block. Then Kebano burst into the box and fizzed a dangerous ball across the box after more good counter-pressing.

    29 minutes

    Really quick thinking from the Fulham goalkeeper Rodak to pick out Pereira in the left channel with an excellent piece of distribution. Pereira's cross looks like it was heading for Mitrovic but Matip rose to head behind for a corner. The corner hits the side netting. 

    26 minutes

    Palhinha caught on the ball in his own half but Henderson's pass was poor and Robinson got around on the cover to snuff out the danger. Fulham fans scream for a foul on Palhinha, but then they do get their foul through Mitrovic. Game becoming slightly bitty - this time Kebano is penalised for barging Diaz over.

    23 minutes

    Mitrovic and then Kebano put their bodies to good use to hold the ball up and draw a foul from Van Dijk, 40-45 yards out over near the right touchline. 

    It was a cracking delivery by Pereira, but Ream seemed to have a 50p head and the ball skewed well right. They kept it alive though and Palhinha saw a snap shot deflected behind for a corner. Liverpool defend but good from Fulham again. 

    21 minutes

    Henderson tries to break forward but Salah's chipped pass towards him runs out of space and Fulham have a goal kick. Pereira mis-cues an attempted through ball to Mitrovic after Alexander-Arnold gave the ball away. Fulham still competitive but how long can they sustain this for? It is a warm day at pitch level. 

    Robertson gets in down the left and Robinson produces a crucial back post header when Salah looked ready to pounce. 

    Klopp was not too happy with the early exchanges

    Credit: AP

    17 minutes

    Tete gets away with a late and heavy challenge on Diaz, lucky to escape without a booking and Klopp is not happy. Liverpool are just starting to creep up the pitch and enjoy some more territory. Adarabioyo volleys away an Alexander-Arnold cross.

    15 minutes

    Liverpool have the ball in the net, but the flag goes up for offside. Their first move on any quality with Firmino flicking the ball into Robertson's path but Rodak made the save. The rebound fell to Diaz who curled a lovely finish into the top corner but Robertson was offside initially. First moment of danger for Fulham.

    13 minutes

    Liverpool are trying to build play patiently from the back, but are struggling to play through Fulham, and when they clear the ball defensively it is flying out of play rather than being retained by a red shirt. Klopp already stalking the touchline.

    11 minutes

    Fulham have been very compact from back to front, the central defenders Adarabioyo and Ream are pushing up and staying close to their midfielders. They look a well-drilled side at the moment, despite some pessimism about their transfer business.

    8 minutes

    Thiago with a cute pass in midfield under pressure, sucking Reed in, but his attempt at a long diagonal out to Salah is overhit. Cordova-Reid has started on the left and Kebano on the right for Fulham. Plenty of bite in the home team's midfield at the moment, Palhinha looks to have settled in well. 

    6 minutes

    The game is mostly being played in the Liverpool half at the moment, Pereira with a cross into Alisson's gloves. Fulham then swarm all over Firmino and win the ball straight back, and the home team get forward and win a corner. Matip heads it away, but this has been a scratchy opening from Liverpool. Fulham will be encouraged but early days. 

    4 minutes

    This has been a bright Fulham start. They worked the ball well to Kebano on the right and his threatening cross drifted across the six-yard box. The flag belatedly went up for offside. 

    Fulham aggressive without the ball, but Mitrovic crosses the line and fouls Thiago. 

    2 minutes

    A promising moment inside the first minute as Mitrovic drifts into some space behind Fabinho from a throw, and he was allowed the carry the ball into the box and poke a shot wide. Reed looking to be energetic and get around Liverpool's midfield. Liverpool yet to establish much possession - but we are two minutes in!

    KICK OFF!

    Liverpool get the game under way. The camera angle at Craven Cottage is now far more steep, almost unrecognisable. If you're the kind of person who remembers these things, which I am. 

    The players are on their way out

    It is a glorious day by the Thames and the pitch looks immaculate. Last time Fulham started a Premier League season at home, it was behind closed doors against Arsenal in 2020. An almost full house in today - the upper tier of the new stand is still under construction.

    No Nunez in the starting line up

    Perhaps a slight disappointment for Liverpool fans and neutrals alike, but Klopp has history when it comes to holding back new signings until they are absolutely ready. We barely saw Fabinho until after Christmas when he signed, but once he came into the team there was no stopping him.

    Klopp watching the warm-ups as ever

    Credit: AFP

    Alisson will be in an interesting shade of lilac today

    Liverpool fans have gathered to greet the team coach

    Credit: GETTY IMAGES

    Five subs in action this weekend

    I took a detailed look at how the rule change has already changed this summer's transfer market, and will alter how coaches approach matches during the 90 minutes. Will it benefit the big boys to the extent people are predicting? You can read the piece in full here

    Our man at the Cottage

    Fulham starting XI: Leno on the bench

    There £20m midfield signing Palinha does start though, as does Mitrovic. Robinson might feel he can give Alexander-Arnold a problem on the overlap.  

    Liverpool starting XI: As anticipated with Nunez on the bench

    Konate is absent through injury so Matip partners Van Dijk at the back. It's a very experienced midfield and a familiar forward line. Fabio Carvalho among the substitutes against his former club.

    Marco Silva is in the building

    The Fulham manager has been frustrated by the lack of new arrivals, although Bern Leno was signed from Arsenal this week. He could be in for a busy day. 

    Credit: Reuters

    Jurgen Klopp: Mohamed Salah refreshed after one of 'most intense seasons ever'

    By Chris Bascombe

    Mohamed Salah looks re-energised, rejuvenated and ready to renew his quest for the Premier League golden boot after a pre-season break and record Anfield deal.

    His manager, Jurgen Klopp, is ready to reap the reward of Salah’s much-needed summer holiday after an exhausting end to last season.

    Erasing the shadow over Salah’s future, when he extended his contract by another two years on £350,000 a week, is not so easy to measure. At the very least, Klopp admits he was glad to remove the distraction of weekly questions about Salah’s long-term commitment.

    "Mo had one of the most intense seasons ever, with the African Cup of Nations and all of our games,” said Klopp.

    "Everyone talks about us playing 63 games and stuff like this, but we had some players who played a tournament in between as well, which is absolutely ridiculous. 

    "After a few weeks of holiday, Mo is always full of power and energy and he came back in a good shape and, yes, knowing where he will be for the next very, very important years in his career. Yes, that gave all of us a boost and him as well. He looked really sharp in the whole pre-season to be honest. Long may it continue, that would be really cool.

    "It is of course much better now than if he would have been out of contract next summer. Mo would have been the same person, I am 100% sure he could have pushed that aside, but you would not stop asking and that is the problem we would constantly face. These things help, yes."

     It is symptomatic of how quickly the football world moves on that once Salah’s future was resolved, the focus switched to how new team mate Darwin Nunez and Manchester City signing Erling Haaland might go head-to-head in this season's goal charts.

     Writing off Salah's capacity to eclipse both would be unwise, his hunger to continue breaking records being insatiable. 

    "People are motivated by different things, I think Mo’s biggest motivation is to win football games and to score, that is definitely the case," said Klopp.

    "I don't think he thinks too often about other players or how often they score. He might do it in May when he hopefully has 34 or 35 and the other two have 32." 

    Full team news on the way shortly.