Brentford came in search of a club‑record fourth consecutive Premier League win but faced the inescapable truth that it is Mohamed Salah who sets the records at Anfield.
The Liverpool phenomenon maintained his prolific form by scoring for the sixth home league game in succession as Jürgen Klopp’s side moved up to second in the table, in the process heightening the significance of their next outing at Manchester City.
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Salah struck twice – the second his 200th goal in English football – before a fine finish from Diogo Jota sealed an ultimately impressive win for Liverpool. Brentford were obstinate and dangerous as they so often are under Thomas Frank, and the hosts required assured defending from Virgil van Dijk, Alisson and company to protect the margin of victory, but they were no match for the quality of Liverpool’s attack.
“Off the top of my head he is the best player in the league,” the Brentford manager said of Salah. “What a level. He must be one of the best offensive players in the world. Not top 10, top three. When you have a player of that quality it’s good.”
For Liverpool, that is. “Crazy,” was Klopp’s take on the Egypt international’s numbers. “A pretty special player.”
Liverpool were stretched, and not only by Brentford’s potency on the counterattack. Injuries and a suspension for Alexis Mac Allister limited Klopp’s options to such an extent that his bench featured seven players aged 20 or under. The roll call of inexperience included Trey Nyoni, who would have been Liverpool’s youngest player in a league game had he appeared at the age of 16 years and 135 days. There was still recognisable quality throughout the starting lineup, however, and a centre forward in Darwin Núñez who relished the battle against Brentford’s powerful five-man defence.
The Uruguay international was at the forefront of Liverpool attempts to break down a deep and well-drilled defensive line. He was denied twice in the opening stages by the Brentford keeper, Mark Flekken, when Liverpool’s fluency in the final third was amiss, and then had two goals disallowed in five minutes by a combination of an offside flag and VAR.
Núñez’s first finish beyond Flekken was via the inside of a post after Dominik Szoboszlai scuffed a shot into his path. VAR confirmed the assistant referee’s original offside decision, but only after a lengthy check of a marginal call. The second was an overhead kick after Flekken had saved superbly from Van Dijk’s header, but Núñez clearly came from an offside position before converting Joël Matip’s follow-up header.
Boos circulated around Anfield after VAR’s second review but it took the performance of Klopp’s bete noire in black, the referee Paul Tierney, to truly rile the home crowd. Chants against Tierney rolled from the Kop after he penalised and booked Matip for a foul on Christian Nørgaard, despite the defender first winning the ball. An ironic rendition of “We love you Tierney” followed when Liverpool were awarded a free-kick.
Diogo Jota scores Liverpool’s third at Anfield. Photograph: Paul Currie/Colorsport/Shutterstock
The breakthrough arrived amid the referee-bashing. Núñez was heavily involved again, beautifully controlling Trent Alexander-Arnold’s pass to the edge of the Brentford area and playing an equally impressive ball into the path of Salah as he swept into the box ahead of Mads Roerslev.
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Salah steered a trademark finish into the far corner to create yet more history in a Liverpool shirt. He became the first Liverpool player to score in the opening six home league games of a season and only the fourth in total in the Premier League era, following Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand and Thierry Henry. It also extended Salah’s run of scoring or assisting in Premier League home matches to 15 games, a sequence stretching back to January.
Salah’s second, and 10th league goal of the season, was a routine header at the back post from a Kostas Tsimikas cross. But no one celebrated, suspecting the ball had gone out of play before Tsimikas delivered. Brentford players appealed as the ball floated across their area. Salah stood still as soon as his header found the inside of Flekken’s near post. Eventually VAR ruled the whole ball had not crossed the line and Liverpool could finally savour the moment. They had another to savour when Jota received Tsimikas’s pass on the edge of the Brentford area, cut across the substitute Frank Onyeka and crashed a superb shot beyond Flekken from 18 yards.
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The margin of Liverpool’s victory was convincing but the contest would have been much tighter with sharper finishing from Brentford and without the formidable presence of Alisson in the home goal. The Brazil international denied Bryan Mbeumo when the tireless striker was released through on goal by Roerslev, although it was a weak shot from the forward, and made fine saves from a Mathias Jensen free-kick plus an Ethan Pinnock header in the second half.
“I know we lost 3-0 and Liverpool were close to their ‘A’ game but we had big moments and didn’t take them,” said Frank, who claimed Wataru Endo could have been sent off under current VAR interference for a foul on Nørgaard. “The big moments are unfortunately why we didn’t get anything from a good game.”