With the hallowed English holiday schedule causing the matchdays to all blend together at this point, the Reds took on Brentford at the Community Stadium as the first fixture of Matchday 19, mere hours after the conclusion of Matchday 18. A favorable spate of rival results over the weekend gave Jurgen Klopp’s men an opportunity to leapfrog a sinking Tottenham into fifth in the table and a point behind fourth-placed Manchester United (albeit with an extra match played).
However, even despite missing talisman Ivan Toney, scorer of nearly half of their league goals coming into the match, Thomas Frank’s Bees had different ideas. The visiting Reds starting on the front foot, however Brentford capitalized on a surge late in the first half to take a 2-0 lead into the break. Liverpool came flying out the blocks in the second period, pulling one back through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but ultimately weren’t able to keep up the momentum, succumbing to a late counterattack sucker punch through the host’s Bryan Mbeumo.
It was a largely poor performance at all levels: brittle at the back, leaky in midfield and wasteful in attack, meaning that there are scant few Winners to choose from and a varied selection of Losers. We’ll give it a go anyway...
Return of the Ox...?
As was the case in Friday’s win over Leicester City, the Reds looked fairly blunt going forward against the Bees, save for a few sparks at the start of each half. Making his third consecutive start on the left of the front three, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played a part in both the good and the bad on the day while looking livelier than he arguably has since 2018. The Ox was even on the spot to nod Trent Alexander-Arnold’s delicious left-footed cross past David Raya three minutes after the restart to kick off his side’s comeback attempt.
It could the 29-year-old’s last run in the first XI for a while with new boy Cody Gakpo waiting in the wings. However, the former Arsenal man scoring his first goal probably since Gangam Style topped the charts hopefully makes for an encouraging final few months contributing to the squad until his expected departure at the end of his contract in the summer.
What dignity the Reds were able to preserve on the day came as a result of AB1 again proving himself one of the game’s preeminent keepers. Casually shutting down 1-on-1s, authoritatively sweeping when one of his defenders were beaten on a break away, and making multiple saves in quick succession when his squad were unable to clear the ball, Alisson can be credited with preventing an even more embarrassing score line.
Disappearing Corner Defense
Brentford’s opener came through a shot from a corner deflecting off of Ibrahima Konate’s knee after 20 minutes. The Sky Sports commentary crew noted that it was only the first time Liverpool—the league’s top scorers from set pieces—had conceded from a corner this season. However, the uncharacteristic defensive panic the hosts were able to generate in the Reds was reminiscent of the chaos of the Dejan Lovren/Mamadou Sakho days. The sense of unease at the back permeated for the rest of the half to several more corners in quick concession resulting in a second first half concession and the final margin.
Look, we all know Harvey Elliott is just a kid at 19 years old despite his evolved game. However, Klopp hauling the youngster off at half time after an ineffectual performance was largely an acknowledgement of the part he has played in a midfield incapable of controlling games or contributing much in the way of attacking impetus. The much-maligned Naby Keita came on in his place and immediately provided both forward-thinking drive from the center of the park and an extra man in attack, something Elliott doesn’t appear willing or capable of at this point in his career.
What Happens Next
The Reds have a five-day break before hosting Wolves at Anfield on Saturday in the third round of the FA Cup. Many Reds supporters will be hoping that new signing Cody Gakpo will get a run out and that the club find £200m under the sofa to bring Jude Bellingham in ASAP.