Mohamed Salah serves notice of intent in Liverpool trophy chase – but victory comes at a cost

Sergey Brin
Sergey Brin
7 Min Read

Three points on the day kept Liverpool firmly in charge of their title fight but the bigger questions for Jurgen Klopp will be over the longer-term impact of this fixture on his squad.

Victory over Brentford came at a cost, with three of the team’s most in-form players being forced off through injuries, even as perhaps their most decisive star made his own return.

Mohamed Salah hadn’t featured for the Reds since hitting a brace at Newcastle on New Year’s Day, with Africa Cup of Nations duty and a hamstring injury seeing him miss out since. An entrance off the bench perhaps came earlier than expected here but out of necessity, as a string of starters suffered their own injuries which could yet impact on more silverware than just the Premier League trophy.

But balancing out those fears was Salah’s immediate impact. The Egyptian scored one, assisted another and could easily have had a hat-trick, in truth, as the Reds scored four and threatened to run riot late on.

All that came after the hosts arguably made the better start – and after no fewer than three Liverpool starters departed early, only eight days before the Carabao Cup final at Wembley.

Chances came at both ends quickly enough. Mark Flekken was hailed by the home support after successive saves to deny Conor Bradley and Diogo Jota, while Ivan Toney twice might have done better when testing Caoimhin Kelleher.

A Jota half-volley was then tipped over before Liverpool finally found a route to goal – with the in-form forward crucial to their approach play once more. But if Jota’s assist was almost otherworldly in his vision and execution, Darwin Nunez’s finish was the kind which, too often, has been missing from his armoury.

Darwin Nunez produces an exquisite dinked finish over Mark Flekken (PA)
Darwin Nunez produces an exquisite dinked finish over Mark Flekken (PA)

Virgil van Dijk’s clearance was – no other description for it – absolutely hoofed. It was a clear-the-ball-at-all-costs kind of intervention after the ball bobbled about in Liverpool’s box. But the next touch was sublime: Jota, on the run and holding off Sergio Reguilon, managed a glancing header slightly behind himself and directly into the path of Nunez, who ran through one-on-one. The Uruguayan has spurned such opportunities far too often; this time, he lofted a delicate clip up and over Flekken and into the net.

That made it six goals and three assists for Jota in his last nine league games – but it was to be his final meaningful contribution. A three-way clash which also involved Alexis Mac Allister saw Christian Norgaard fall on Jota’s right knee, and the Portuguese forward was stretchered off and following Curtis Jones down the tunnel, with goalscorer Nunez soon to follow them both, not re-emerging after half time.

Frustration for Jurgen Klopp, already without Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dominik Szoboszlai, Joel Matip, Thiago Alcantara and – in the 24 hours before this game – Alisson Becker.

The obvious negative of Jota’s exit was tempered a touch by Salah’s entry, his first appearance since before the Africa Cup of Nations and his subsequent hamstring injury.

Safe to say, it didn’t take long for the No 11 to make his mark and show that while full sharpness might be a few games away, his impeccable impact inside the penalty area is primed and ready to go.

Diogo Jota was stretchered off to add to Liverpool’s injury woes (Action Images/Reuters)
Diogo Jota was stretchered off to add to Liverpool’s injury woes (Action Images/Reuters)

The Reds’ second goal arrived 10 minutes after the restart, though it could have been their third in that period alone.

First, Salah spurned a magnificent one-on-one chance after racing through against Flekken, only to completely skew his effort wide, then the Egyptian led a three-on-two counter – but picked Cody Gakpo over Luis Diaz for his pass and the Dutchman’s end product was tame. Still, Salah was relentlessly involved and his next touch breached the back line, finding Mac Allister who was able to beat the last defender and finish low.

There was plenty of late goalmouth action for fans to soak up. Kelleher twice made excellent reflex saves, Toney briefly gave the home fans hope by smashing in one rebound and Diaz eventually teed up Gakpo to wrap up the scoring for 4-1.

But amid all that attacking talent, one star shone more brightly, and maybe more importantly in the long run.

The returning Mo Salah inspired Liverpool to glory at Brentford (AP)
The returning Mo Salah inspired Liverpool to glory at Brentford (AP)

That was Salah, of course, and he did not have long to wait to celebrate himself. Hesitation in the Bees’ back line saw him pounce on Gakpo’s flick-on, beat Nathan Collins and finish in customary style, across the keeper and into the far corner for the Reds’ third.

It was emphatic and incisive and yielded the biggest cheer of the day from the visiting fans, and from the Liverpool coaches on the touchline. Perhaps that was because it made the points all but certain, perhaps it was because it yielded a first win in three attempts at this stadium for Klopp.

But perhaps the more pertinent cause for celebration from a red perspective would be because Salah brings an injection of quality and a guarantee of goals – just when Liverpool appear to have lost a significant amount of both, at a critical time of the campaign.

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Sergey Brin, a passionate advocate for Mother Earth, channels her love for the planet into meaningful actions. With a heart dedicated to environmental stewardship, she strives to inspire others to join in the collective effort to preserve and protect our precious home