Fortress Anfield remains invincible.
After two away games against Luton Town and Toulouse, Liverpool produced a much-needed display of energy.
Brentford became the ninth successive away team to come away with nothing to show for their efforts this season. All nine have been lost by two or more goals – Liverpool haven’t had such a run at Anfield since 1980.
Jurgen Klopp had called for more attack and the call was answered – as Anfield reciprocated by seeing Darwin Nunez thunder past Brian Mbemo.
Liverpool, who were down eight players through injury and suspension, could have been in danger, but they were simply willing to deal with poor conditions and their extra quality finally shone through.
“The boys responded well,” Klopp said. “We scored some fantastic goals – a top performance against one of the toughest opponents you can face.”
It was the perfect way to enter the final international break of the year and It sets up an exciting clash at the Etihad on November 25.
After Liverpool’s struggles last season, when standards dropped, regular service resumed sooner than anyone expected. Klopp’s side, who have moved up to second place from Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, are once again breathing down Manchester City’s neck, with just one point between them.
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“We haven’t played perfect football yet, not even close, but we will fight our way in the interim,” Klopp said.
“We have to continue with the other teams until March or April and if we’re still there we can start talking. Until then, fight your way through the toughest league in the world.
Liverpool are certainly not wanting when it comes to firepower. The quintet of Mohamed Salah (12 goals), Diogo Jota (eight), Nunez (seven), Luis Diaz (four) and Cody Gakpo (four) have won 35 between them in all competitions.
Nunez did not score against Brentford after seeing two efforts blocked from offside, but led the way brilliantly. His finishing can be erratic at times but there is no doubting his improvement in all round play with and without the ball.
“Darwin connected the game in a special way,” said Klopp, who described the Uruguayan’s work rate as “crazy”.
Nunez created the opening goal with Salah becoming the first player in the club’s history to score in the opening six league games. The blossoming understanding between the two – Núñez’s nine goals for the club are for the Egyptian – bodes well for the challenges ahead.
Salah grabbed his second header in the second half to make it 17 goals in his last 15 league games at Anfield, while Jota finished off Brentford with an emphatic strike from the edge of the box. Jota has netted in seven of his 11 appearances – despite starting just seven of those games and has gone under the radar.
In defence, the bar has been raised significantly with the return of a rejuvenated Virgil van Dijk alongside Joel Matip.
The Liverpool captain has won 10 of his 12 wins, finishing 54 of 61 shots (89 per cent) and making four clearances, three tackles and two blocks. Looking fit and strong, he moved across the lawn to face the danger that came. Matip was more combative and confident after contributing to the violence in Toulouse.
Allison made a crucial save from Mebeumo to keep the goal out and the hosts were in good form as they defended a series of set pieces. The Brazilian’s failure to make the top 10 goalkeepers at the recent Yashin Trophy must go down as the most surprising award winner of the year.
Some concerns remain, not the role of the midfield. Wataru Indo made just his second league start since joining from Stuttgart in August while Alexis McAllister was suspended but had a torrid afternoon.
The Japanese international has won just three of his 14 matches. Four fouls and one hard tackle resulted in a difficult lung challenge for Christian Norgaard. It was a relief for him when the VAR check did not result in a red card.
Barring anything happening on international duty, the smart money suggests McAllister will start at No.6 at the Etihad.
Liverpool have continued to be linked with Fluminense’s Andre after first inquiring about his pursuit of the defensive midfielder last summer, but senior Anfield officials rejected talk of a move for him in January. Until there is a change of position, they will push with what they have.
Left-back Andrew Robertson, who is not expected to play again until January, is also a risk. After a torrid night in the Europa League, Kostas Timikas will be in the best mood of his life after scoring twice against Brentford.
But what needs to be sharpened is his defensive work. Joe Gomez looks more likely to get the point if he is fit to face City. Ryan Gravenburch should also return to center field.
The extent to which Klopp’s fortunes have been stretched and many players released from injury is demonstrated by the fact that Diaz is the only substitute away from home over the age of 20. There was high-flying competition for teenager James McConnell as a late 16-year-old. – Veteran Trey Nyoni was named to the Gameday squad for the first time.
Liverpool will need some good luck to stay in the hunt because it is unsustainable to be able to cope with so many leftovers. Then there is the small matter of identifying their shape. 18 of 18 on the road compared to 18 at home.
What works for them is that their competitors also show some weaknesses. A return to the top four was the main target before kicking off in August. That performance at the Etihad speaks volumes about Liverpool’s credentials and whether they are serious contenders for the big prize.
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(Top photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)