Hit: Nunez makes instant impact
Liverpool endured a frustrating afternoon at Craven Cottage but they will be encouraged by what they saw from Darwin Nunez.
The £85m signing from Benfica was named among Jurgen Klopp’s substitutes but, much like in the Community Shield against Manchester City last weekend, his introduction changed the game.
In just 39 minutes on the pitch, he grabbed a goal, an assist, and attempted four shots – twice as many as any other Liverpool player managed all game – three of which were on target.
He looked raw at times but Nunez brought a chaos factor which changed the momentum of the game. More or less everything Liverpool did as an attacking force happened around him. “He was involved in a lot of goalscoring situations and that’s really cool,” said Klopp.
Nunez also ranked top for touches in the opposition box (seven) and aerial duels won (three), and even created the joint-most scoring chances (two) along with Jordan Henderson.
His game still requires refinement, but that only makes his instant impact more encouraging. If this is what he can do on his Premier League debut, then there is surely even better to come.
Hit: Mitrovic shows maturity under Silva
Jurgen Klopp said the best aspect of Saturday’s thrilling 2-2 draw with Fulham was the result, and it was a fair assessment. In the first half at Craven Cottage, his side looked spooked.
Marco Silva deserves all the praise for coming up with an organized game plan to ensure the Premier League newcomers won the midfield battle in the first half. There was an exciting blend between Harrison Reed, Andreas Pereira and Joao Palhinha while Fulham exploited the width behind Liverpool’s full-backs.
Mitrovic only had five touches in the opening 20 minutes, but his influence would grow. His first goal was precisely the sort of goal Silva will have mapped out on the eve of this encounter, playing through the lines with his talisman meeting a deep cross with a meaty header inside the six-yard box.
Since the start of last season, Mitrovic has scored 45 goals in English league football, 16 more than any other player – and yet the question has always remained over whether he can cut the mustard at this level.
Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson have won all there is to achieve in the English domestic and European game, and as they hobbled back onto the team coach and headed back to Merseyside, I am sure they would collectively agree that Fulham’s burly striker had caused them as many problems as any forward encountered in recent memory.
What it boils down to is belief.
A fan behind me pointed out inside the opening five minutes, ‘we’re playing Liverpool, not Middlesbrough!’ But maybe that was an insight into how these fans have felt about coming up a level over the past five years. A sense of trepidation from the first whistle.
Fulham, and Mitrovic, wouldn’t show it throughout this game. They and their talisman have momentum, a growing maturity and a belief they can go toe-to-toe with any team in the league on this evidence.
Hit: Saliba’s Arsenal debut worth the long wait
Gabriel Jesus was the best player on the pitch in the first half of Arsenal’s 2-0 win against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. But by the end of the night, it was another debutant for the Gunners who was taking the acclaim. A man who signed for the club in 2019.
The wait for William Saliba to play in the Premier League has frustrated fans who had long wanted to see the young centre-back in action. This performance showed why there has been such a fuss. He was outstanding in helping Arsenal see out the win.
Composure in possession is a trait that might be expected at this level but what was striking was that Saliba looked composed even when Palace’s best dribblers were running at him with his pace. “I thought he was really good,” Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports.
“There was one moment when a ball went in behind the Arsenal back four, in behind Ben White, and he just came across, running alongside someone. The way he dealt with it, with his long stride and his arm came across, he just looks the part.”
The expectation now is that Saliba can make a major impact. In a way, though, he already has. With the crowd up and the lead slender, this game may have slipped away last season. With the help of their talented young defender, that looks less likely than before.
Hit: Andersen impresses with ‘outrageous’ passing
“The second goal defines the match,” said Joachim Andersen when speaking to Sky Sports after the game. Perhaps. But Crystal Palace had been threatening to equalize just moments earlier and their second-half performance was helped by Andersen’s passing.
The Dane completed 253 long passes in the Premier League last season – 50 more than Trent Alexander-Arnold, the next highest total by an outfield player. That range of passing is a major weapon for Palace in helping to transform defense into attack in an instant.
Andersen completed 12 long passes against Arsenal on Friday evening – three times as many as any other outfield player on the pitch. It is a rare attribute. “Some of his passing was absolutely outrageous,” Gary Neville told Sky Sports.
“Some of the best midfield players in the world 20 years ago would have been delighted with this. Paul Scholes would play passes like this but he is a centre-back for Crystal Palace.
“If you are coming up against Crystal Palace you might as well stand on him and let the other centre-back have the ball because you cannot allow that level of quality all the time. You have to stop that because they got a lot of joy from it in the second half.”
Hit: Tavernier looks a shrewd signing for Bournemouth
It has been a quiet summer for Bournemouth so far, with only three new players through the door at the Vitality Stadium, but in Marcus Tavernier, they look to have recruited wisely.
The midfielder, a £12.5m signing from Middlesbrough earlier this week, produced an excellent performance as Scott Parker’s side overcame Aston Villa on the opening weekend.
Tavernier brought energy and guile in equal measure, succumbing to cramp in the closing stages but not before he had made a positive impression on everyone watching.
Bournemouth had just 34 percent of the possession at the Vitality Stadium but Tavernier was an invaluable outlet throughout, his speed and directness helping them get up the pitch and causing Villa major problems in central areas.
In total, the 23-year-old completed six successful dribbles – twice as many as any other player – with Villa often reduced to fouling him. Tavernier won five free kicks over the course of his 85 minutes on the pitch and showed an eye for a pass too, creating three scoring chances for Bournemouth and helping to ensure their Premier League return went exactly according to plan.