Liverpool started the new Premier League season in almost the worst way possible, drawing 2-2 at newly promoted Fulham and also losing Thiago to injury.
Fulham 2-2 Liverpool
Craven Cottage, Premier League
Saturday 6 August, 2022
Goals: Mitrovic 32′ 72′ pen; Darwin 63′, Salah 81′
Slow start against energetic new faces
Note to the squad: Pepijn Lijnders‘ book is out now. Might be worth a read before kick-off in the next game, especially that big word on the front that some people call the title: INTENSITY.
It might be our identity in the assistant’s eyes, but it wasn’t at Craven Cottage – for the opening 15 minutes it looked more like a bunch of lads had begrudgingly got themselves down to the local park to play a Sunday League game after a particularly heavy night before.
Lethargic off the ball, sloppy in possession, not at all combative in one-on-one challenges; this was as bad as anything we could have expected on the opening day.
It would have made for a tough game against anyone in the Premier League, but against a newly promoted side with both players and home crowd massively up for it, it made for poor viewing indeed.
Marco Silva probably would have been grinning inside too, given he was sacked after we hammered him in his last Premier League game.
There were no shortage of underperformers in the first half and there wouldn’t have been many surprised faces had Jurgen Klopp opted to make one or two of his five subs at the break.
Chief among the problems with that sluggish start and poor impact on the game was the Reds’ lack of competitiveness in central midfield.
Fabinho was nowhere near his ball-winning best, Thiago was more aggressive but unable to find his range with longer switched passes and the less said about Jordan Henderson‘s first half the better.
It had the knock-on effect of meaning very little build-up play getting through to the attacking third, no real support to Salah and Co when longer balls from the back reached them, and above all else no protection for the full-backs as the home team kept countering the channels.
Thiago‘s injury after the restart sped up Jurgen Klopp‘s plans, perhaps, but there should be no doubt that changes would have been coming soon enough anyway. By the hour mark the midfield was all-change from the start, including Hendo going into the six role, and the alterations were badly needed.
Injuries impacting already?
Curtis Jones injured, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain injured. Naby Keita ill. Now add Thiago to that from the group in the centre of the park.
That big group of eight Klopp noted at the start of the season is already down by half, one league game into the campaign.
Naturally some injuries will last longer than others and some have to be expected and accepted all the way through the season.
But given the Ibou Konate injury has seemingly affected Klopp’s defensive plans in the transfer market – Nat Phillips now potentially not leaving as a result – we’ll await and see if injuries in midfield have the reverse effect, forcing a reconsideration in whether to bring another face in.
It’s worth noting, after where they featured in pre-season, that Harvey Elliott did come into the team as a No8, but Fabio Carvalho was used in the forward line.
Darwin’s big impact – again
Two sides to this point: firstly Darwin Nunez‘s excellent individual showing after coming off the bench, but also the fact that his presence helped Mohamed Salah be far more involved in the game too.
Bobby Firmino did not, it’s fair to say, have a good game. He was hooked early in the second period, though Darwin’s first opportunity actually saw him spurn a shooting chance and mess up the pass too – a big chance missed.
The next two were mirrors of each other though: one backheel from a Salah cross which was saved, then one backheel from a Salah cross which went in, equaliser achieved.
He almost claimed an assist with a knockdown for Luis Diaz straight after, but then did manage one for the 2-2 equaliser, getting a touch back to Salah who rolled in from close range.
The early link-up signs between the two are good, though there’s lots to work on elsewhere.
Tiresomely early, but title implications
Wow, day one and we talk about losing ground? Sadly it’s the relentless truth of the Premier League – you have to aim for about 95 points to be in with a shout of the title and even that isn’t enough.
That means you can drop around 19 points for the entire league season, and we’re already up to two, or just over 10 per cent.
Put that way it shows the horrible need to win, win, win if you want to lift the title. Of course, it isn’t terminal.
The opening day is a tough one to navigate and there are 37 matches to rectify matters later – and this side more than most have shown an ability to bounce back after setbacks and go on amazing winning runs.
It’ll have to act as an early reminder as to the standards needed though, and set us straight back onto the winning path.