The Premier League returned to a sold-out Craven Cottage last weekend – with most of the pundits predicting a goal fest for Liverpool’s front three. It was Fulham, though, who emerged as the sharper side. The intensity on display from Marco Silva’s men overwhelmed their visits who were seemingly unable to handle Fulham’s press.
Only the most optimistic member of the Fulham faithful could have forecast the Whites coming away with anything from this game. Liverpool arrived unbeaten in Premier League throughout 2022, finishing last season just a point shy of the title. Fulham began the campaign following an unexceptional preseason – featuring a 1-1 draw to Villarreal and a merciless 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Benfica. Confidence among the home fans might have dropped further when they saw Marco Silva’s starting eleven. The lineup featured only two debuts, Palhinha and Pereira, and boasted the same back four that had won us the Championship. Although Marco’s faith in the Fulham lads was encouraging, many were less trusting in 34 year old Tim Ream’s abilities to subdue 3 time Golden Boot winner Mohamed Salah. New signing Leno featured on the bench, however one would be surprised if we don’t see him starting between the sticks in the coming weeks.
Fulham started the game quickly, with Liverpool allowing Mitrovic the space to shoot within the opening minutes. Suddenly, the mood around the Cottage changed. The once furrowed brows turned into expressions of hope as Fulham started to knock the ball about with confidence. The normally composed Liverpool defence were showing signs of panic as Fulham’s wide men rushed to close each ball down. Even when Liverpool did manage to get the ball past Fulham’s determined attackers, Reed and Palhinha were there to sweep up, making sure that only one minute of the first ten was played in Fulham’s final third. The frustration on the face of Jurgen Klopp was clear; Fulham were not allowing Liverpool to play with their usual creativity and freedom.
As time went on, Liverpool slowly started to grow into the game with a goal being called offside against Luis Diaz. The warning signs were beginning to show, yet Fulham seemed unfazed, and continued to apply pressure. A curling free kick from Pereira was misjudged by Tim Ream who seemed to get ahead of the ball. Then, in the 32nd minute, a wavering cross from Tete was met by our beloved Serb, who towered above Trent Alexander-Arnold to put Fulham 1-0 up. Craven Cottage erupted and the familiar sound of ‘Mitro’s on fire’ could be heard rippling through the crowd. It was a classic Mitrovic goal, and hopefully something we will have the pleasure of witnessing many times this season.
Liverpool were starting to look increasingly menacing, with their fullbacks beginning to move further up the pitch. As a Diaz shot hit the post, many were biting their nails in anticipation of the half-time whistle. Diaz continued to apply pressure, and after a seemingly eternal 5 minutes, fans were able to enjoy their £6.80 pints. Marco Silva’s fantastic football has fans feeling optimistic: not many teams are able to hold Liverpool to the throat as Fulham have in the first half.
Under Scott Parker, we were used to seeing Fulham go ahead and defend like their lives depended on it for the remainder of the match, regardless of the opponent. It was therefore refreshing to see Fulham come out for the second half looking as thirsty for goals as they had in the first. Liverpool’s new target man Nunez was introduced to the match, alongside Harvey Elliott who was welcomed to the pitch by a reception of boos and whistles from the Fulham faithful. Within 5 minutes of being introduced, Nunez was robbed of the ball by Tim Ream, who stormed up the pitch, releasing Neeskens, who’s shot that many thought was in cannoned off the post.
With 30 minutes to go Liverpool equalise. It’s Liverpool’s substitute Nunez who managed to skilfully flick the ball over Rodak’s outstretched arms. It’s a shame to concede after Fulham’s resilient defending throughout the match, however there was still hope for Fulham to grab something from the game. And grab they did, as Mitrovic twisted Van Dijk like a pretzel, with clear contact bringing him down. Fulham don’t have a great track record for Premier League penalties as of recently, however Mitrovic dispatched the penalty with ease, slotting it past Alisson and into the bottom corner. 3 points were back on the table. This elation was short lived, however, as Fulham conceded within 10 minutes after a lack of communication between the centre halves presented Salah with a golden opportunity. A long-range effort from Jordan Henderson rattled the crossbar in the last action of the match. A Fulham team that many had overlooked before the first whistle had many scurrying to change their league predictions.
Man of the match, Mitrovic, looked a new monster. He was bounding up and down the pitch, helping the Fulham defenders and then terrorising Liverpool’s defence. A simple hand off on Jordan Henderson followed by a Cruyff turn sending Van Dijk for a hot-dog was a personal highlight of the match. Rumours floated around that Mitrovic was the first player to ever dribble past, and win a penalty from Virgil Van Dijk. His performance turned many doubters into believers as pages who had once slandered his Premier League status were quick to flood him in praise.
Debutants Palhinha and Pereira also had fantastic games, with many wondering once again how Fulham had landed Palhinha’s signature. Palhinha played a vital role in preventing and progressing attacks, as his no nonsense attitude to defending has many wondering how many bookings he will pick up this season. Pereira’s work rate was faultless, constantly running on and off the ball. His tricky passes and footwork were vital in advancing Fulham’s attacks.
Klopp’s complaints of a dry pitch were juxtaposed by the liquid football on display from Fulham, with many now wondering how far Marco Silva can take us.