The names feel a throwback to a different time. As the final whistle blew, the players on the pitch for Graham Potter’s Chelsea included Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Cesar Azpilicueta, Hakim Ziyech and Jorginho. A mismatched group who had Chelsea’s worst season for decades can claim few distinctions but they remain the last Premier League side to leave Anfield without Mohamed Salah either scoring or assisting a goal against them.
That stalemate was in January and it is starting to look very possible that Salah will complete a year of decisive contributions on home soil. A brace against Brentford had a certain predictability but knowing about Salah’s threat and stopping him are very different things. There is a certain normality to his brilliance. For a 15th consecutive league game here, Anfield’s Egyptian king reigned. For a sixth in a row this season, he scored, and only Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand and Thierry Henry have started a Premier League campaign in similar vein. Not for the first time, Salah is in elite, esteemed company.
He is accustomed to rubbing shoulders with the goalscoring greats and he may yet give Erling Haaland a battle for the Golden Boot. A dozen games into the campaign, Salah is already in double figures for top-flight goals. There was a precision to the latest pair: his ninth was both a trademark Salah goal and a high-class team strike. It was a clinical finish after crisp, incisive passing: Trent Alexander-Arnold fed Darwin Nunez who picked out Salah. He, in turn, found the far corner of the Brentford net. It continued the profitable alliance of Nunez and Salah: all nine of the Uruguayan’s Liverpool assists have come for the Egyptian.
Salah’s second of the afternoon came as many a player on either side simply stood and watched. They seemed to think the ball was out after a sliding Kostas Tsimikas crossed and an unmarked Salah planted a header past Mark Flekken. Yet the goal stood and it was the start of the second double: Tsimikas, found badly wanting in Thursday’s defeat to Toulouse, got two assists. The second owed more to Diogo Jota, who jinked infield and fizzed in a shot from the edge of the box.
It was his sixth goal in his last seven outings at Anfield – Salah is not alone in enjoying home comforts – and Liverpool could have had six of their own. There might have been a hat-trick for their top scorer. Some of Alexander-Arnold’s passing was sublime and Salah volleyed wastefully over from the vice-captain’s cross.
Before the deadlock was broken, Nunez had an idiosyncratic double of his own, with two goals chalked off inside five minutes, both for offside and after consulting VAR. The first was marginal, the second altogether clearer. Nunez finished adeptly after intercepting Dominik Szoboszlai’s misdirected shot and then spectacularly with an overhead kick; the offside flag rewarded goalkeeper Flekken, who had saved brilliantly from Virgil van Dijk’s header before Joel Matip headed the ball to Nunez. The striker was excellent; perhaps it was perversely typical that one of his best performances did not bring a goal.
For Liverpool, though, there was a win to end what had been, in terms of performances, their worst week of the season. Below par at Luton, rather worse in Toulouse, they had attacking verve, if not always defensive solidity.
But perhaps it was understandable Liverpool were too open. A makeshift midfield, shorn of five injured or suspended players, contained a forward, in Cody Gakpo, and a man making a first Premier League start at Anfield, in Wataru Endo. The Japanese rightly survived a VAR check for a red card for a challenge on Christian Norgaard, irritating Thomas Frank, and Brentford, often the scourge of the big six, posed Liverpool problems.
They ought to have returned south with a goal to show for their efforts. Quick-witted and sharp of foot, Bryan Mbuemo brought Brentford a menace on the break and, almost, a lead. He latched on to a loose touch by Alexander-Arnold to shoot wide. He raced on to Mads Roerslev’s long pass, in behind the Liverpool defence; Alisson’s expertise in one-on-one situations was required to deflect his shot and allow Alexander-Arnold to clear.
Norgaard came close with a volley from Mbuemo’s corner; the imperious Van Dijk also hooked a Norgaard header off the line. Yet their bid for a club record fourth consecutive Premier League win was ended by Salah, just as Liverpool’s record of winning every match at Anfield this season by at least two goals continued. They still average exactly three goals a game on their own turf, with 27 in nine. If it takes a team to forge such statistics, they are helped when they have someone of the consistency and quality of Salah. Anfield is a fortress but, in part, that is the Salah effect.
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