At the final whistle, Jürgen Klopp couldn’t help but shake his head in disbelief. Somehow his Liverpool side had managed to secure the victory over a Brentford side who just never stopped believing in it. While Klopp can take comfort in the fact that his side are one point ahead at the top after Mohamed Salah scores his 100th Premier League goal, he will know they need to improve considerably if they are to make it to the top. bout this season as their defensive weaknesses have been exposed time and time again.
A spirited performance from Brentford that came to life with Ethan Pinnock’s opener and was completed by Yoane Wissa’s equalizer with eight minutes remaining could have been even worse for Liverpool without a last resort tackle from Virgil van Dijk, although a draw was probably the result of just a thrilling game.
By a whim of fate after earlier results, all four of this season’s title contenders were down 13 points when this game started, not to mention Rafael Benítez’s Everton resurgence. Klopp, who led his players off the pitch after the warm-up by sprinting through the tunnel, clearly recognized the importance of Liverpool’s first experience at this sparkling new stadium.
The two clubs last met in the league in May 1947, when Brentford’s 12-year stint in the Premier League came to an end despite a 1-1 draw at former Griffin Park. Visiting supporters couldn’t resist annoying their counterparts by chanting “you are just a bus stop in Hounslow” at the start of the match.
Still, after a shaky start that forced Kristoffer Ajer to step back to clear Salah’s shot after playing it to the side, it was the enterprising hosts who should have taken the lead in a frenzied 10-minute opening. Ivan Toney and Frank Onyeka both had the opportunity to score after the Liverpool defense failed to eliminate the danger before Bryan Mbeumo chose to lift the ball over Alisson on goal, allowing Joël Matip to prevent him from crossing the line.
With four changes to the squad that beat Crystal Palace last week, including Curtis Jones replacing injured Thiago Alcântara in midfield and Trent Alexander-Arnold, Matip and Andy Robertson restored to defense, Liverpool should have looked safer but they struggled to contain the wire under tension Toney and Mbeumo. Brentford’s rise to the Premier League has been characterized by intelligent behind-the-scenes recruiting and an attacking approach; Klopp called them “brave in just about everything they do” earlier this week. That’s exactly what came to my mind when Toney’s brilliant back heel turned a cross from Liverpool academy product Sergi Canós on his way to Pinnock at the far post to open the scoring.
Brentford’s joy was short-lived, however. A brilliant cross from Jordan Henderson allowed Diogo Jota to get past his marker and guide the equalizer. It was the kind of game you couldn’t take your eyes off for a second. Only the woodwork and an excellent save by David Raya to deprive Jones and then Jota prevented Liverpool from taking the advantage at half-time, the evening of Pinnock, injured, ending prematurely as he was replaced by Mathias Jørgensen.
Thomas Frank looked more than happy with his side at the break, but the Brentford manager had to be prepared for the onslaught ahead. Alexander-Arnold and Robertson advanced early in the second half as a signal of Liverpool’s intention and it didn’t take long for them to find the breakthrough after Raya saved Jota’s effort at close range.
Fabinho’s floating ball at the back post cheated the entire Brentford defense and there was Salah to bring back his historic goal despite the assistant referee initially flagging it offside. The reruns showed that it was Canós who played against the Egyptian.
But Brentford will still offer a threat going forward and they have found their way through Liverpool’s fragile defense once again. Pontus Jansson’s shot crashed into the bar after a cross into the box before Vitaly Janelt could nod just over the line despite Alexander-Arnold’s best efforts to get there first. The parity lasted three minutes, however, as Jones took off from the edge of the box and his shot deflected hapless Ajer to beat Raya at his near post.
It turned out to be his final act when Roberto Firmino was introduced from the bench, with Salah losing a golden chance to complete the points after Sadio Mané’s through pass. How he would have come to regret that when Wissa – as a late substitute four minutes earlier – coolly threw the ball up on Alisson to earn a deserved run.