Fulham and Mitrović offer signs of survival in spirited opening day performance



Fulham had been dismissed as relegation certainties by some before a ball had been kicked in the 2022/23 Premier League season, and in many ways you can understand why.

At least two of the three promoted sides have been relegated from the top tier of English football in three of the last four seasons, with Fulham contributing to that statistic in each of their last two appearances at the level. Given they failed to even put up a fight in the process of falling back into the Championship in those two campaigns, their preparations for their latest return to the Premier League have been less than ideal.

Despite making some astute-looking signings, head coach Marco Silva has become increasingly agitated by the lack of progress the club has made in securing targets. Harry Wilson, one of Silva’s most consistent performers in winning the Championship title last term, has been ruled out until the autumn through injury. The opening of the club’s sparkling new Riverside Stand has been marred by the decision to charge some supporters £100 a ticket to sit in it.

Any club starting any season with concerns such as this is likely to face scepticism about their chances of success. These issues, coupled with Fulham’s modern Premier League history, meant that if few fancied them to be above the drop zone by season’s end, even fewer felt positive about their hopes of competing against Jurgen Klopp’s relentless Liverpool side in their season opener on Saturday.

Opening the campaign with a visit from an opponent that came within two wins of completing an unprecedented quadruple of trophies less than three months ago was less than ideal. The fact that opponent has supercharged its front-line with the additions of £70m Darwin Núñez and Fulham’s own Fabio Carvalho made the task even greater. And statistical intimidation, such as the fact that said opponent has tasted defeat against newly-promoted teams just once since February 2017, only added to the idea that Saturday would prove to be a long afternoon regardless of the early kick-off time.

But none of this bothered Silva and his players. Aggressive with and without the ball from the first minute until the last, their first performance of the campaign was a world away from those that defined the anaemic relegations of season’s past.

Kenny Tete and Antonee Robinson held their own against Liverpool’s ceaseless attacks down the flanks. Andreas Pereira was bright and positive as he schemed in midfield, and fellow debutant João Palhinha was outstanding, ending the 90 minutes having won more tackles than any other player on the park as Liverpool struggled to find a way past him.


No one has embodied Fulham quite like Aleksandar Mitrović in recent seasons. Far too good for the Championship but misunderstood and misused in the Premier League to the extent that he too has reached a stage whereby little is expected of him in the top flight. Would there be such ambivalence towards a lesser-known striker arriving in the Premier League on the back of 43 second-tier goals?

Even though he found the net more regularly last year than in any of his others at Craven Cottage, and broke records in the process, Silva has in fact utilised his talisman in such a way that the team no longer seems at the behest of the fortunes of Mitrović.

An over reliance on the Serbian was never more clear than under Silva’s predecessor Scott Parker. The Championship play-offs were won in 2020 with Mitrović playing just 30 minutes in the final as he made his way back from injury, but Fulham quite possibly would not have had the opportunity to reach Wembley without the former Newcastle frontman securing 25 league points thanks to his 26 goals in the regular season.

The following campaign, it appeared as though Parker felt the team had become too reliant on their centre-forward, and that he could not be relied upon to deliver in the Premier League. Mitrović was cast aside, dismissed as the problem before even being given an opportunity to show that he could be the solution to goal-scoring woes that saw Parker’s Fulham end the season having found the net on just 27 occasions.

Silva has moulded a cohesive unit that is neither overly-reliant on the Serbian nor nearly as effective without him leading the line. As much as Mitrović’s goals last season helped Fulham lift the Championship title – how could they not? – by acting as a foil for the likes of Wilson, Bobby Decordova-Reid and Neeskens Kebano, the number 9 helped to bring the best out of others on top of having an outstanding campaign individually.


The development of Mitrović was typified by the contrasting nature of his two goals on Saturday afternoon.

Having already bothered the Liverpool backline with his physicality and movement in the first half hour, the way in which he rose above Trent Alexander-Arnold to crash home a 32nd-minute header from a Tete cross was a sight that will surely inspire traumatic flashbacks among Championship defenders and engender dread within Premier League opponents who are yet to face this version of ‘Mitro’.

Every aspect of Fulham’s opening goal of the season was quintessential Mitrović. From the feeling of impending dread you could sense within Alexander-Arnold as Tete’s cross dropped towards the far post, to the way in which the striker physically dominated the England international before forcing the ball beyond Alisson at his near post.

It was the model of Mitrović we have become accustomed to.

The second, albeit a typically deadly finish from the penalty spot in the end, displayed some less common features of his game in the build-up.

A dribble early in the second half had seen Jordan Henderson left in the Serbian’s wake before Virgil van Dijk was forced to stumble in every direction but that of the ball, yet in collecting the ball some 40 yards from goal after substitute Manor Solomon had won back possession, Mitrović fancied offering the game another defining moment.

Reaching the 18-yard box, he once again faced up to Van Dijk and took the opportunity to charge at the defender. Regardless of the weight of contact as the two behemoths collided, Mitrović beat the usually mercurial Dutchman all ends up, almost earning the penalty without the need for there to be a foul.

This combination of what everyone knows about Mitrović – the aerial ability, the aggressive yet controlled physicality, the unflappable finishing within the penalty area – and some of these new elements of his game – his selfless movement, ability to link with others, and, perhaps most impressively, a physique that allows him to challenge opponents in new ways – was too much to handle for a team that collected 92 Premier League points last year.

It is rather tantalising to comprehend what he could do to the rest of the division.


As well as Fulham played and as good as Mitrović was, there were still enough within the game that did not go quite right to keep Silva and his charges grounded.

Robinson was fortunate to get away with allowing Mohamed Salah to escape down the right flank on one occasion in the second period when Marek Rodák saved from Núñez, yet the reality of coming up against one of Europe’s elite attacking forces meant that the Uruguayan forward slotted home from an almost identical situation minutes later for Liverpool’s first equaliser when the left-back lost Salah for a second time.

The defending of Alexander-Arnold’s forward ball in the build up to the second equaliser will only add further weight to the head coach’s desperation for greater quality and depth at centre-back, and the ever-so-cruel nature of the Premier League was very nearly typified in the final moments when a Henderson shot would have seen Fulham end the afternoon empty-handed had its trajectory been just a few inches lower.

Jurgen Klopp pointed to his own team’s lack of fitness and fluidity, as well as the condition of the Craven Cottage pitch as explanations for Liverpool’s inability to secure an 17th win from their last 20 league fixtures. But if Fulham continue to play like they did, and Mitrović continues to perform as he did, at the very least they will give themselves a fighting chance of proving those that have doubted them wrong.

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