Fortress Anfield remains impenetrable.
After momentum had been dented by two insipid away displays against Luton Town and Toulouse, Liverpool produced a much-needed show of force on home turf.
Brentford became the ninth successive visiting team to leave with nothing to show for their efforts this season. All nine have been beaten by a margin of two or more goals — Liverpool haven’t had a run like that at Anfield since 1980.
Jurgen Klopp had demanded more aggression and his call was answered — epitomised by the sight of Darwin Nunez thundering into Bryan Mbeumo as Anfield roared its approval.
Shorn of eight players due to injuries and suspension, Liverpool could have been vulnerable, but they simply refused to be bullied in bleak conditions and ultimately their extra quality going forward shone through.
“The boys responded sensationally well,” raved Klopp. “We scored wonderful goals — a top performance against one of the most difficult opponents you can face.”
It was the perfect way to sign off going into the final international break of the year and it sets up a mouthwatering top-of-the-table clash at the Etihad on November 25.
After Liverpool’s struggles of last season, when standards plummeted, normal service has been resumed sooner than anyone anticipated. Klopp’s resurgent side, who leapfrogged Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal into second place, are once again breathing down Manchester City’s neck, with just one point between them.
Can they sustain it? November is too early to be talking about a Premier League title challenge but what a platform they have to build on.
“We didn’t play perfect football yet, not even close, but we fight our way through moments,” said Klopp.
“We have to keep going with all the other teams until maybe March or April and if we are still there then we can start talking. Until then fight your way through the most difficult league in the world.”
Liverpool certainly won’t be found wanting when it comes to firepower. The quintet of Mohamed Salah (12 goals), Diogo Jota (eight), Nunez (seven), Luis Diaz (four) and Cody Gakpo (four) already boast 35 between them in all competitions.
Nunez didn’t score against Brentford after seeing two efforts disallowed for offside, but he led the line brilliantly. His finishing may be erratic at times, but there’s no doubting the improvement in his all-round game, with and without the ball.
“Darwin connected the game for us exceptionally,” said Klopp, who described the Uruguayan’s work rate as “insane”.
Nunez created the opener for Salah, who became the first player in the club’s history to score in the opening six home matches of a league campaign. The blossoming understanding between the two of them — all nine of Nunez’s assists for the club have been for the prolific Egyptian — bodes well for the challenges ahead.
After Salah nodded home his second in the second half to make it 17 goals in his last 15 league appearances at Anfield, Jota finished Brentford off with an emphatic strike from the edge of the box. It’s gone under the radar somewhat that Jota has netted in seven of his last 11 appearances — despite only starting seven of those games.
Defensively, the bar was raised significantly with a refreshed Virgil van Dijk returning to action alongside Joel Matip.
The Liverpool captain won 10 of his 12 duels and completed 54 of his 61 passes (89 per cent), as well as making four clearances, three tackles and two blocks. Looking fit and strong, he cruised across the turf to deal with all the danger that came his way. After contributing to the chaos in Toulouse, Matip was much more combative and assured.
Alisson made one crucial save from Mbeumo when it was goalless and was at his commanding best throughout as the hosts repelled a succession of set pieces. The fact that the Brazilian didn’t even make the top 10 goalkeepers when the Yashin Trophy was recently dished out has to go down as the most bizarre award snub of the year.
Some concerns remain, not least the holding midfield role. With Alexis Mac Allister banned, Wataru Endo was handed only his second league start since arriving from Stuttgart in August but he endured a tough afternoon.
The Japan international, who completed 49 of his 57 passes (86 per cent), won just three of his 14 duels. His timing was off as he made four fouls and one heavy touch resulted in a clumsy lunging challenge on Christian Norgaard. There was relief for him when the VAR check didn’t result in a red card.
Barring anything happening on international duty, the smart money suggests that Mac Allister will start as the No 6 at the Etihad.
Liverpool continue to be linked with Fluminense’s Andre, after first inquiring about his availability when they were pursuing a defensive midfielder last summer, but senior Anfield figures have dismissed talk of making a move for him in January. Unless there’s a change of stance, they will push on with what they’ve got.
Left-back is also a worry in the continued absence of Andrew Robertson, who isn’t expected to play again until January. After a torrid night in the Europa League, Kostas Tsimikas will be feeling much better about life after providing two assists against Brentford.
But it’s his defensive work that needs to sharpen up. If Joe Gomez is fit to face City he looks the more likely to get the nod. Ryan Gravenberch should also return in midfield.
The extent to which Klopp’s resources have been stretched with so many players sidelined was illustrated by the fact that Diaz was the only outfield substitute over the age of 20. There was a top-flight debut for teenager James McConnell late on, while exciting 16-year-old Trey Nyoni was named in a matchday squad for the first time.
Liverpool will certainly need some good fortune to stay in the hunt because being able to cope with so many absentees just isn’t sustainable. Then there’s the small matter of sorting out their away form. Eighteen points out of 18 at home, compared to nine out of a possible 18 on their travels.
What’s in their favour is that their rivals have also shown some deficiencies. Clambering back into the top four was the main target before a ball was kicked in August. That looming showdown at the Etihad will tell us much more about Liverpool’s credentials and whether they are serious contenders for the big prize.
(Top photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)