Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp did not guarantee that new striker Darwin Nunez would start their Premier League opener away at Fulham on Saturday, but declared he was “ready” if needed.
The Reds were pipped to the Premier League title by one point by Manchester City last season, but have since added the 23-year-old striker in the hope of wrestling back the title they last won in the 2019-20 campaign.
Nunez scored Liverpool’s third goal in their 3-1 win over City in the Community Shield last Saturday, but Klopp refused to guarantee him a starting place at Craven Cottage.
“Darwin is ready but that doesn’t mean he has to start,” Klopp said. “He needs time to get used to a lot of things but is already a big help.
“It was a proper pre-season training session for him. He said he was nervous early on. Normal. He’s settled quickly. Feels at home.”
Liverpool travel to Craven Cottage to face a Fulham side who earned 90 points on their way to the Championship title last season.
It does not get much tougher in terms of first tests back in the Premier League than facing Klopp’s side, a task made even harder by injuries to key players Harry Wilson and Nathaniel Chalobah.
Fulham head coach Marco Silva was extremely honest about his side’s preparedness to face the six-time European champions.
“We, as a squad, we are not ready,” he said. “We have 16 senior players in our squad. No-one competes at this level with 16 senior players in your squad. Everyone that understands football can see we need at least five or six more players.”
Fulham fans’ excitement to be back in the top-flight will likely have been dampened by Silva’s comments, and their players will certainly have their work cut out on Saturday afternoon.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Fulham – Aleksandr Mitrovic
The striker smashed the Championship scoring record with an unbelievable 43 goals in 44 appearances last season, but he managed only three goals in Fulham’s last stint in the Premier League. Has he improved enough since then to challenge the likes of Virgil van Dijk on Saturday?
Liverpool – Mohamed Salah
The Egypt international shared the Premier League Golden Boot last season with Son Heung-min after bagging 23 goals in 35 appearances, and will surely be licking his lips at the prospect of facing a depleted Fulham defence.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Fulham were unbeaten across both Premier League games against Liverpool in 2020-21, drawing 1-1 at home and winning 1-0 at Anfield. Despite suffering relegation that season, the Cottagers’ four points against the Reds was their joint-most against an opponent (also four v Sheffield United and West Brom).
– Liverpool have won their first Premier League match in each of the last four seasons, the longest ongoing run in the top-flight, scoring at least three goals in every victory (15 goals in total).
– Mitrovic has scored 24 goals in 104 Premier League games, netting once on average every 286 minutes in the competition. This is a stark contrast to his Championship record, where the Serbian has scored 85 goals in 126 games, netting once on average every 117 minutes.
– Salah has scored in Liverpool’s opening Premier League game in each of his five seasons with the club, with the Egyptian the only player in the competition’s history to score on MD1 five years in a row. Indeed, he has seven such goals in total, with only three players netting more (Alan Shearer, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney, 8 each).
– Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 19 Premier League games (W16 D3) since a 1-0 loss at Leicester in December 2021. The Reds have won their last three despite conceding the opening goal within the opening 15 minutes each time – only Arsenal (March 2012) have ever won four consecutive Premier League games from behind.