If the main focus of Fulham fc will be that Jurgen Klopp wonders how his team can be so bad and that Marco Silvas could finally have what it takes to make the Premier League, the game has been defined and decided by two players cautioning everyone were able to sum up the start of the season.
Darwin Nunez is still under pressure to adapt immediately. Aleksandar Mitrovic is still having to defy perceptions from his very first Premier League games.
Without falling into the same trap and declaring that both immediately dispelled all doubts, the two forwards underscored the restored value of their roles this season – with so many more clubs opting for modern nines – simply showing that good players can despite still be able to afford anything, any noise.
Liverpool really needed Nunez badly. He changed the game by changing their team’s center of gravity. Before the Uruguayan came on, there had actually been a fugitive to Liverpool. Another veteran mind tasked with starting the game, Roberto Firmino just didn’t have enough clout. There were two good moments from the Brazilian but that was almost the problem. He mostly drifted in a way that has proven dangerous in the past, but here he felt inadequate.
In contrast, Nunez began to dominate everything. Of course, he was far from perfect. Some touches were missing. Some decisions were poor – not least the pass to Luis Diaz when he should have shot, a classic case of a player adjusting to a new team. But none of that ever reached him. He endured in that muscular way which also meant Fulham just had to keep trying to subdue him. Nunez attracted almost every ball, and that sometimes attracted up to three of Silva’s defenders.
This resulted in the final equalizer. It also illustrated something else, namely the greater space he was opening up to Salah. Liverpool’s attack looked so much more angled and dangerous when Nunez went down the middle and allowed the Egyptian to wreak havoc on that side. His own goal, the flick of the first equalizer, was the result of similar persistence.
“In situations like this, where we can’t find a way in front of goal, you need that extra something,” Klopp said of Nunez. “This difference also makes it difficult for the opponents.”
In short, for such a strong player everything fell into place when Nunez came on. The team made sense. That will be all the more important for their first home game next Monday at home against Crystal Palace given the potential problems in midfield. They might all be missing Curtis Jones, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Thiago Alcantara, the Spanish midfielder who featured in the game.
Klopp inevitably denied they were going to the market.
“I said we don’t need a midfielder because we have enough and actually have enough. We are now being punished for something that is not our responsibility. No one imagined that Curtis would get what he gets, but he’s a little boy and he gets stress reactions. Naby is ill and definitely won’t be back next week. Oxlade happened early and Thiago, that’s not good. But a transfer must make sense now and in the long term. We have eight midfielders. It’s not like we’re missing midfielders. You will only get hurt. But that’s not a good situation. I don’t like all of this. Of course we have to think about how to react, but don’t panic.”
Silva didn’t panic, but he did urge his club – once again – to go on the market. It was one of the undercurrents of the summer at Craven Cottage, as tension between the manager and the hierarchy grew.
Silva will insist he has been shown should be supported. There’s also the possibility of what Mitrovic can do with even more quality around him. Here he was great on his own. Fulham were obviously superb across the team and on the pitch and had so many superb players, but the specific nature of their game plan still meant there were moments when Mitrovic was alone on an acre of the pitch. He reveled in it, alternating between holding brilliantly and charging forward so dangerously. The latter was the source of the penalty as he outsmarted Virgil van Dijk in a moment few could imagine and it all complemented his more traditional game. There was something of that as he cheered for the first goal in vintage fashion.
There’s something else to it, as Silva mentioned. Mitrovic is about more than just goals and power.
“I know the quality of Mitro. I’m here to get the best out of my players and we’re doing it with everyone from last season. Of course he has his own profile as a footballer, we have to keep believing that he takes the best for him too, but Mitro isn’t just goals.
“If anyone thinks Mitro is just Tore, forget it [it]. The job he did this afternoon [was] for the team, his pressure, helping the midfielders, helping the back line and if you let him do it he will score.
“I have to congratulate him because the work he did off the ball this afternoon was fantastic and he knows that from me.”
However, Mitrovic could also show some gratitude to his manager. Part of the reason there was a growing perception that he wasn’t going to make it in the Premier League wasn’t that he wasn’t good enough, it was that Scott Parker was playing a system that just didn’t suit him. He’s not built for this kind of game. Silva, on the other hand, has produced an almost ideal form for Mitrovic.
It couldn’t stop Fulham. The manager emphasized that he needs more players. Opening days can also be deceptive. On the opening day of the 2010/11 season, Blackpool defeated Wigan Athletic 4-0 on one occasion. Only Wigan stayed up. But this approach, which puts Mitrovic in such a role, certainly gives them a chance.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/liverpool-fulham-darwin-nunez-aleksandr-mitrovic-b2140431.html Darwin Nunez and Aleksandr Mitrovic highlight the revived value of the number nine