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 his side are a point clear at the top after Mohamed Salah scored his 100th Premier League goal, he will know they must improve considerably if they are to go all the way again this season as their defensive weaknesses were exposed time and again.
A spirited performance from Brentford that sparked into life with Ethan Pinnock’s opener and was rounded off by Yoane Wissa’s equaliser eight minutes from time could have been even worse for Liverpool had it not been for a last-ditch tackle from Virgil van Dijk, even if a draw was probably the fair result from a pulsating game.
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 warm-up 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 by chanting “you’re just a bus stop in Hounslow” as the game started.
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. Ivan 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 four changes to the team that beat Crystal Palace last week including Curtis Jones replacing the injured Thiago Alcântara in midfield and Trent Alexander-Arnold, Matip and Andy Robertson restored in defence, Liverpool should have looked more secure but they struggled to contain the live wire Toney and Mbeumo. Brentford’s rise to the Premier League has been characterised by smart recruitment behind the scenes and an attacking approach; Klopp called them “brave in pretty much all the things they do” earlier this week. 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 Jones and then Jota prevented Liverpool from going in ahead at half-time, with the injured Pinnock’s evening coming to a premature end as he was replaced by Mathias Jørgensen.
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 signal of Liverpool’s intent and it did not take them long 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 will always offer a threat going forward and they again found a way through Liverpool’s brittle defence. 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 his last act as Roberto Firmino was introduced from the bench, with Salah wasting a golden chance to wrap up the points after Sadio Mané’s through ball. How he would come to regret that when Wissa – on as a late substitute just four minutes earlier – coolly lifted the ball over Alisson to earn a deserved point.