Liverpool ease past Brentford despite absence of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah

Goals from Fabinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain and birthday boy Minamino seal 3-0 win at Anfield

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As Jurgen Klopp put it, “everybody was invited” to chip in with goals in the absence of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Even he may have been surprised not merely who replied, but how.

Fabinho had only scored four times in his first 142 games for Liverpool. Now he has three in three. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had never previously scored a header in the Premier League. The Englishman looked astonished when he did.

Takumi Minamino’s birthday goal meant the trio scored more in 90 minutes against Brentford than they had in rest of the Premier League campaign.

A first top-flight match without either Salah or Mane since the Egyptian’s arrival in 2017 was navigated and, after Liverpool failed to break down 10-man Arsenal on Thursday, there was a palpable sense of relief when Fabinho struck.

“We knew what was not right against Arsenal but the world puts the finger on the obvious thing that a couple of world-class players weren’t here,” said Klopp. “But we don’t talk about the boys who weren’t here.” Instead, the crowd sang the name of Rafa Benitez, their 2005 Champions League-winning manager, after his sacking by their rivals. Everton’s plight may have increased his popularity at Anfield.

Benitez represents the past and Kaide Gordon the future. The 17-year-old almost garnished the occasion with a goal on his Premier League debut, with a shot that Alvaro Fernandez saved.

Liverpool nevertheless went second, though Klopp admits it will be tough to reel in Manchester City. “This is not the situation to talk about a title fight, it's 11 points. In a normal world nothing happens any more but what is normal nowadays?”

Meanwhile, Brentford lamented the nature of their downfall. They can be porous from dead-ball-situations and Klopp reflected: “A goal from set-piece was helpful because the set-pieces against Arsenal were really bad.” 

Their fortunes shifted when Brentford, who had defended defiantly, allowed Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner to bounce in the box before Fabinho outjumped Kristoffer Ajer to head in. “That should never happen,” rued manager Thomas Frank. “I would love to see what happened if it was 0-0 at half-time.”

The injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cast a 'shadow on the game' according to Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. AP

The set-piece threat had been there. Fernandez redeemed himself for failing to claim Alexander-Arnold’s earlier corner by recovering to make a terrific save from Virgil van Dijk. Defenders exuded menace, with a vicious shot from Alexander-Arnold and a long and winding run from Joel Matip.

The second came in a different unlikely fashion. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first league goal at Anfield since July 2020, was a diving header from Andy Robertson’s deep cross. He was Salah’s temporary replacement on the right and he borrowed the Egyptian’s scoring habit. “He was really good,” said Klopp. Yet it was a bittersweet display as an injury-prone player rolled his ankle. “That is a shadow on the game,” Klopp added.

It felt entirely typical that, even without his usual sidekicks, Roberto Firmino did not score but instead stayed the supplier. Selfless to the last, he read a poor pass from Fernandez to support Klopp’s theory that pressing can be the best playmaker by setting up the substitute Minamino. “Today pretty started with birthday songs in all the available languages and Taki got a boost,” said Klopp.

But if Diogo Jota had looked the only potentially prolific player left at Anfield, he had one of his profligate days. The Portuguese rattled the post with a half-volley and drew a fine save from Fernandez but also missed the target with two early opportunities.

Brentford reflected on near misses from Ivan Toney, who arrowed a shot just wide at 0-0, and Bryan Mbuemo, who almost equalised. “We played 60 very good minutes,” said Frank. “Maybe even better in the first 45.”

Updated: January 16, 2022, 5:17 PM