Usually-reliable Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk found himself the the subject of unexpected criticism after he conceded a penalty in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Fulham.
The Cottagers were good value for their point and could even have had more after making Liverpool come from behind twice. Indeed, Marco Silva’s side showed no signs of being in awe of their opponents, who have not lost a Premier League game in 2022.
The Cottagers started brightly with Joao Palhinha breaking up play superbly well in his defensive midfield role.
And the Cottagers took a deserved lead on 32 minutes when a slick move saw Kenny Tete whip over a deep cross where Mitrovic rose above Trent Alexander-Arnold to power home a close-range header.
For Mitrovic, the header was exactly the sort of goal for which he has made his name. And BT Sport pundit Peter Crouch said his “eyes must have lit up” when the ball was floated over.
However, Sky Sports pundit Kris Boyd had questioned the softness of Alexander-Arnold’s defending.
He said: “Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defending on the goal is atrocious. He doesn’t even know Mitrovic is behind him and he just comes in and bullies him.
“Fulham deserve to be ahead.”
Indeed, Alexander-Arnold’s performance was well below his best in that opening half. But it wasn’t just his defending that earned him criticism.
To that end, his pass success rate was also down at 68 per cent – the lowest of any Liverpool player in that half. He also surrendered possession 18 times – the most of any player on the pitch.
Virgil van Dijk criticised by pundits
Indeed, Fulham continued to press second half with Liverpool again second best in the early exchanges.
“It’s so odd to see Liverpool so downbeat. Really, really odd. But that’s where you have to give credit to Fulham,” Jermaine Jenas said to BT Sport.
However, an equaliser from Darwin Nunez appeared to change the complexity of the game, with Liverpool pressing for the lead.
But with pressure building, it was Fulham who broke away with Mitrovic winning and then coverting a penalty when Van Dijk chopped him down.
Showing the ball to Van Dijk, his quick feet dragged it away from the Dutchman with his lunge bringing him down.
The part Van Dijk played in that moment certainly raised eyebrows among the commentators.
Indeed, Jenas was very vocal of the usually-reliable Liverpool defender.
“He’s normally so assured in those situations. It’s a clumsy challenge and one he didn’t need to make. He had Trent back alongside him,” Jenas began.
“It’s great play from Mitrovic, he’s slowed it down, moved the ball, lured him into the challenge. He’s feeling confident, feeling good and deserves those two goals,” Jenas added.
Aleksandar Mitrović is loving it out there! ⚽️⚽️
He tucks home the penalty he won to restore Fulham's advantage 👌
What a day for the newly promoted side so far! pic.twitter.com/4gZPTQu9B7
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) August 6, 2022
Darren Fletcher on commentary duty was equally surprised.
“Every one is counting up, trying to remember the number of times Van Dijk has come off second best like that when one on one!”
Liverpool did manage to find an qualiser when Mohamed Salah poked home after Nunez’s lay-off. The strike means he has scored on the opening day of the season for the sixth successive season.
The Reds also hit the bar in added-on time when Jordan Henderson’s 25-yard strike hit the bar.
But truth is that would have been harsh on Fulham, who more than deserved their point.