These early season reports are usually framed in terms of ‘what we’ve learned’ and the suspicion that reached Craven Cottage that August lunchtime was that the answer wouldn’t be much.
Liverpool, one point and a Vinicius Jr. from an all-time high last season, were already up and running after beating champions Manchester City convincingly in the Community Shield last weekend.
Fulham, meanwhile, were already strongly tipped for a third relegation in five seasons, with the feeling of early sinking barely easing when Marco Silva – without many alternatives – named a starting XI comprising nine members of the team that failed to beat the fall two years ago. .
Instead, however, the yet-to-be-written book of forms was torn as Fulham produced a magnificent performance, full of the kind of tenacity and spirit that will be needed to keep them in the division in the absence of the Premier. Very proven league. quality, to approach in all power a famous upset opening weekend.
Eventually, the home side were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw after Darwin Nunez and then Mo Salah canceled out Aleksandar Mitrovic’s brace.
So here’s what we learned…
When Mitrovic unexpectedly found himself in space inside the Liverpool penalty area with the ball at his feet in the first minute, you expected the net to swell. It was only half a chance, really, but you don’t score 43 goals in 44 games in any division without gobbling them up too.
So when the Serb hesitated and then pushed a tame effort, the fear that we might be looking at the player who struggled a lot in the top flight two seasons ago, rather than the one who blew up the league last season, briefly slipped into it.
From then on, however, the centre-forward was phenomenal. He bullied Trent Alexander-Arnold at the far post to open the scoring with a header, then squared Virgil van Dijk to win the kick which he converted.
It was a stint between the two, however, that offered the clearest evidence that this is a better, more mobile and optimistic Mitrovic than on his last visit to the Premier League as he cleared Jordan Henderson with ease in midfield, then Cruyff turned away from Van Dijk and cleared the ball to a team-mate.
The 27-year-old has scored just three Premier League goals in 2020/21 and is already within touching distance of that mark.
Summer signatures shine, but more is needed
Silva’s main protests against the lack of transfer activity this summer have been with his defense and looking at the Portuguese’s line-up, it wasn’t hard to see why.
Kenny Tete, Antonee Robinson and Tosin Adarabioyo had all been regulars in the back line which fell two years ago, when Joachim Andersen – brilliant for Crystal Palace since – was the fourth member and Alphonse Areola – also in the Europa League for West Ham last season – stood between the sticks.
An upgrade is still needed on 34-year-old captain Tim Ream, who in fairness was excellent here, and ideally taller than a 30-year-old Shane Duffy, while Bernd Leno will expect to usurp Marek Rodak pretty quickly .
But if Silva is forced to rely otherwise on the aforementioned trio, it was an encouraging start.
Robinson, Adarabioyo and Tete were each extremely inexperienced ahead of their first Premier League campaigns and although they are still young in defensive terms – they are 24, 24 and 26 respectively – should be much better prepared for this second crack in the league. elite. Robinson, in particular, has been outstanding here, coming up against arguably the division’s most dangerous striker in Salah.
Darwin Nunez is a star
The margin of defeat in last season’s title race means it will be difficult for Jurgen Klopp’s men to consider this result as anything other than a huge two points drop, but it could easily have been worse without the impact of Nunez on the bench.
The £85million summer signing replaced the ineffective Roberto Firmino just minutes after half-time and put the spotlight on what had been a surprisingly flat Liverpool display.
The 23-year-old should have fired trying to face Luis Diaz but crossed his man twice to meet Salah, denied once by Rodak but brilliantly passing past the Fulham keeper with the second.
He then had an effort cleared from the line by Ream before setting up Salah’s equaliser. There was some luck in that assist but it already looks like there is an encouraging spark between the two and when Crystal Palace travel to Anfield on Monday week, Nunez will surely be involved from the start.