Liverpool found the goalscoring alternatives they so desperately needed in the absence of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane as their stand-ins stepped up in a comfortable 3-0 Premier League win over Brentford.
Midfielder Fabinho proved an unlikely solution with his third goal in eight days with the opener just before half-time before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and substitute Takumi Minamino competed the task against visitors, who did not pose that much of a threat.
The goalless draw against 10-man Arsenal in midweek had raised questions about how Jurgen Klopp’s side would fair while two of their famed front three remain at the African Cup of Nations, but this result at least offered some hope it is not all doom and gloom.
Three goals ⚽️Three points ✅— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 16, 2022
How they cope against better opposition – they have the return leg at the Emirates Stadium next week – is still something which needs to be tested but the way the other players made their mark will have satisfied Klopp.
As will a first clean sheet in five league matches and a first league win since mid-December.
Much like their battle against the Gunners, Liverpool struggled to break down a five-man defence despite enjoying almost three-quarters of possession.
The introduction of Curtis Jones – for his first league start since October 30 – and Oxlade-Chamberlain was designed to inject more creativity but a real incisiveness was still lacking.
An early Diogo Jota header over and a blocked Trent Alexander-Arnold shot gave an indication of the direction of travel to come but Liverpool fell into the trap of allowing the ball to spend too much time in the air.
That was more in Brentford’s comfort zone as a forward line lacking Salah and Mane in the Premier League for the first time since the former joined in 2017 lacked any real penetration.
The visitors did their bit to contribute to the frustration, with goalkeeper Alvaro Fernandez’s knee blocking a Virgil Van Dijk shot virtually on the line and Ethan Pinnock doing enough to prevent Roberto Firmino getting enough on a glancing header.
Klopp has chastised his side for succumbing to pressure and trying too hard against the Gunners on Thursday but as time ticked away so did the Liverpool players’ patience and with it the lack of control.
After Vitaly Janelt registered Brentford’s first attempt with a long-range drive well over and the visitors were presented with another chance when Joel Matip passed loosely to Ivan Toney, whose 30-yard low shot whistled past the post.
Liverpool’s corners have proved an area of considerable frustration in recent weeks, with them rarely threatening at all, so for the opener to come from a set-piece was something of a boost.
They may be missing their Premier League leading scorer in Salah but the Reds still have the top assist provider and Alexander-Arnold produced his 10th in 21 matches with the corner from which Fabinho nodded home at the far post.
Since the start of the 2018-19 season, only Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller (64) and Paris St Germain’s Lionel Messi (47) have had more assists in Europe’s big five leagues than the right-back (42).
The Kop greeted news of former manager Rafael Benitez’s sacking at rivals Everton with a song for the Spaniard before the focus returned to the pitch.
Bryan Mbeumo wasted an opportunity to equalise early in the second half when he missed the target with only Alisson Becker to beat but the best chances continued to fall at the other end with Jota hitting a post and being denied one-on-one by Fernandez.
The second goal eventually arrived with 20 minutes to go when Andy Robertson’s teasing left-wing cross was met by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s diving header at the far post.
It was his last intervention as he departed with an ankle injury to further increase Klopp’s headache up front but his replacement Minamino made an instant impact by side-footing the ball home after a mistake in the Brentford defence.
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