At the final whistle, Jürgen Klopp could not stop shaking his head in disbelief. Somehow his Liverpool side had contrived to throw away victory against a Brentford side that simply never stopped believing.
While Klopp can console himself with the fact that they are a point clear at the top after Mohamed Salah scored his 100th Premier League goal for the club, he will know his defence must improve considerably as their weaknesses were exposed time and again. Salah would certainly have sealed the victory had he not spurned a golden opportunity when his side were leading 3-2 but this was all about the pulsating performance from Thomas Frank’s new boys that sparked into life with Ethan Pinnock’s opener and was rounded off by Yoane Wissa’s equaliser eight minutes from time.
“It was a wild ride,” admitted Klopp, who was also full of praise for the outstanding Ivan Toney. “We played some of the best football we have played this season but struggled against their long balls. It was really tricky for us to control the game and they deserved their three goals. But we got a point so it’s not so bad.”
By quirk of fate after earlier results, all four of this season’s likely title contenders were on 13 points when this match kicked off, not to mention Rafael Benítez’s resurgent Everton. Klopp, who led his players off the pitch after the warmup by sprinting down the tunnel, clearly recognised the significance of Liverpool’s first experience of this sparkling new stadium.
These two clubs last met in the league in May 1947 when Brentford’s 12-year stay in the First Division came to an end despite a 1-1 draw at the old Griffin Park. The visiting fans could not resist ribbing their opposite numbers with the chant “you’re just a bus stop in Hounslow” as the game kicked off.
Yet following a shaky start that required Kristoffer Ajer to scramble back to clear Salah’s shot off the line after playing him onside, it was the enterprising hosts who should have gone ahead in a frantic opening 10 minutes. Toney and Frank Onyeka both had opportunities to score after Liverpool’s defence failed to clear the danger before Bryan Mbeumo opted to lift the ball over Alisson when through on goal, allowing Joël Matip to prevent it from crossing the line.
With Trent Alexander-Arnold, Matip and Andy Robertson restored to their defence, Liverpool should have looked more secure but they struggled to contain the live wire Toney and Mbeumo in particular. Brentford’s rise to the Premier League has been characterised by smart recruitment behind the scenes and an attacking approach that Klopp had this week admitted was “brave in pretty much all the things they do”. That was exactly what came to mind as Toney’s brilliant back-heel diverted a driven cross from the Liverpool academy product Sergi Canós into the path of Pinnock at the back post to open the scoring.
Brentford’s joy was short-lived, however. A brilliant cross from Jordan Henderson allowed Diogo Jota to ghost in front of his marker and guide home the equaliser. It was the kind of match that you could not take your eyes off for a second. Only the woodwork and an excellent save from David Raya to deny Curtis Jones and then Jota prevented Liverpool from going in ahead at half-time.
Thomas Frank looked more than satisfied with his side at the break but the Brentford manager must have been prepared for the onslaught that was to come. Alexander-Arnold and Robertson pushed forward at the start of the second half as a sign of Liverpool’s intent and it did not take long for them to find the breakthrough after Raya saved Jota’s effort from point-blank range.
Fabinho’s floated ball to the back post deceived all of the Brentford defence and there was Salah to volley home his landmark goal despite the assistant referee initially flagging him offside. Replays showed it was Canós who had played the Egyptian onside.
But Brentford again found a way through Liverpool’s brittle defence with relative ease. Pontus Jansson’s shot crashed off the bar after a cross into the box before Vitaly Janelt was able to nod the ball just over the line despite Alexander-Arnold’s best efforts to get there first.
Parity lasted all of three minutes, though, as Jones let fly from the edge of the box and his shot deflected off the unfortunate Ajer to beat Raya at his near post.
That proved to be Jones’s last act as Roberto Firmino came on to replace him – strangely the only substitution Klopp made despite entering the final eight minutes in the lead. Then Wissa, on as a late substitute just four minutes earlier having joined from Lorient in the summer, coolly lifted the ball over Alisson to seal a deserved point for Brentford.
“We went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the Premier League and more than held our own,” said a delighted Frank.