Liverpool resist Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane narrative conditioning their season

Jurgen Klopp’s Reds maintained the gap to Man City at the top of the Premier League by easing past Brentford without their African forwards, who are currently starring in the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon

Melissa Reddy
Senior Football Correspondent
Monday 17 January 2022 13:51
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Liverpool's best African stars

The theme pre-match had extended to the focus in the aftermath of an exacting 3-0 victory over Brentford, which catapulted Liverpool above Chelsea and loosely within reach of Manchester City at the Premier League summit.

Just as, ahead of the encounter, he referenced the external din over the absence of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane due to the African Cup of Nations, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp circled it in his post-match briefing.

The anaemic attack during the goalless draw against 10-man Arsenal in the first-leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final raised obvious concerns, slightly lifted by contributions in front of the posts from Fabinho, Takumi Minamino and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on Sunday.

The latter’s injury – a rolled ankle – after a dynamic display will cut into that feeling, but Liverpool are clearly being psychologically drilled not to give into the narrative that they are bust without Salah and Mane.

“We can pretty much cut off the public noise, what is happening around,” Klopp insisted. "We knew against Arsenal what was not right but what the world out there makes of the moment and putting the finger on the obvious thing that a couple of world-class players were not here… we knew, so we didn't have to read it, we did our own thing.

Sadio Mane celebrates scoring Liverpool’s first goal against Chelsea with Mohamed Salah

“We don't have to convince anyone outside to believe. If they want to believe they can believe.

“If you are with us, you will enjoy the ride and we will go for everything. We are ready to go as much as we can.”

There were a few creative positives for Liverpool to build on, not least rekindling some decisiveness from a deadball situation, with Fabinho heading in a Trent Alexander-Arnold corner. “Scoring the goal from a set-piece was helpful as they were very bad against Arsenal,” Klopp admitted.

It was the moment the sway, emotion and shape of the match changed. “I thought we played 60 very good minutes and maybe even better in the first 45: unbelievably well-structured, very good discipline, brave when we want to go high, defended low very well and gave nothing away in open play,” Brentford boss Thomas Frank said.

Egypt’s forward Mohamed Salah (in white) in action at AFCON in Cameroon

“Then we concede from a set-piece. That should never happen. If you want to get a result against a world class team then you cannot concede from a set-piece.”

Liverpool’s half-time analysis also course-corrected some desperation in their offensive play. They were more measured, purposeful and inventive in breaking Brentford’s resistance after the break, with the German noting: “We showed the boys at half-time three situations where we did well, showed the way we played, and the way we wanted to play. When we adapted, we scored two more goals at a good time.”

Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino were the only Liverpool players with more than two league goals to their name this season, in the absence of Salah and Mane, and while neither scored on Sunday, their contributions will have pleased Klopp.

The Brazilian linked the attack wonderfully and crafted Minamino’s goal by his trademark thieving of possession and unselfishness.

Jota offered the most shots in the game and was a constant nuisance for the opposition, with Alvaro Fernandez denying him well.

The full-backs whipped up six chances between them, while Fabinho made four key passes and Curtis Jones supported the frontline well.

Sadio Mane urges his Senegal teammates on against Guinea in Cameroon

Whether Liverpool can continue to create and convert without their formidable African pair remains to be seen, but it is quite clear they won’t be conditioned by talk of their unavailability.

Sunday’s win has given the club a lifeline in the title race, even though convention suggests City will coast to another crown.

Klopp’s wild fist-pumps after the final whistle at Anfield spoke to Liverpool refusing to concede the league to Guardiola’s charges, despite the scale of the task.

"This is not the situation to talk about a title fight, it's 11 points behind now with one game in hand,” he said. "In a normal world, nothing happens anymore but what is normal nowadays? We try to do our part, there is nothing else to do.”

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