Liverpool net key win over Brentford, but will the mounting injuries hurt them?

LONDON — Even as he was running through on goal with just the Brentford goalkeeper to beat, you never quite knew what Darwin Núñez was going to do. The Uruguay striker has been labelled an “agent of chaos” — a player capable of winning a game, as he did with two goals against Bournemouth last month, or struggling in equal measure, as he did when hitting the post four times against Chelsea without scoring 10 days later. Sometimes he is great; other times he is frustrating. But he is always entertaining.

On Saturday, with 35 minutes played, a moment of Núñez magic broke the deadlock as Liverpool opened the scoring against the run of play. A long ball caught Brentford short at the back and Diogo Jota’s flicked header sent Núñez clear on goal. Most strikers would have slotted the ball past goalkeeper Mark Flekken or made a simple sideways pass for a teammate to slot home. Not Núñez.

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With Flekken standing directly in front of him, the €75 million striker went for an audacious chip that floated right over the goalkeeper’s head and nestled perfectly into the back of the net. It was confidence personified and showed just how reliable he has become for Klopp — with a run of five goals and two assists in his last seven games coming just at the right time.

Further efforts in the second half from Alexis Mac Allister and substitutes Mohamed Salah and Cody Gakpo — before a consolation from Ivan Toney — helped Liverpool to a comfortable and important 4-1 away victory that cements their place at the top of the Premier League for the remainder of the weekend, at least. However, the good news for Liverpool ended there.

Saturday’s first half also plunged Jurgen Klopp’s team into an injury crisis, with midfielder Curtis Jones brought off after suffering discomfort and later spotted on crutches, while Jota was forced off on a stretcher after Brentford’s Christian Norgaard landed awkwardly on his knee after an aerial challenge.

Even Núñez was replaced at half-time, as Klopp confirmed after the match that the forward had complained of “a small issue” that means he was removed as a precaution with a Carabao Cup final to play against Chelsea next week and a run of key fixtures that could impact their title challenge.

“[It is] Mixed emotions because we lost players, and we don’t know how serious it is,” Klopp said afterward. “It doesn’t look great for either of them [Jones and Jota].”

They will join a growing injury list that already included Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago Alcantara, Stefan Bajcetic, Ben Doak, Joël Matip, Dominik Szoboszlai and Alisson.

Saturday’s victory, then, will be bittersweet. More injuries could hurt Liverpool at a crucial moment in the season, but they managed to break a hoodoo that would have given them cause for concern before the match. Brentford’s Community Stadium was the only Premier League ground that Klopp had failed to win at during his eight years at Liverpool — he has twice managed here, with a 3-3 draw two years ago followed by a demoralising 3-1 defeat last season.

“This is the strange thing in football. This [Brentford] is probably one of the nicest teams, coaching staffs, everything, you can face,” Klopp said. “Then you play against them and you [want to] knock them down every five seconds because they’re just annoying. I like everything about them, just not playing them.”

And, until Núñez’s magic, Liverpool had not looked overly threatening. Klopp insisted afterwards that Liverpool were patient; really, they were second best. Brentford enjoyed the best early chances after numerous one-touch passing spells but squandered any they carved out.

The Bees could yet have a large say in the outlook of the title race as they play the other two main contenders — Manchester City and Arsenal — within the next three weeks.

So, too, could Liverpool’s ability to bounce back from their injuries. They have sported an impressive squad depth this season — shown by the fact that four players (Salah, Jota, Núñez and Gakpo) have scored 10+ goals in all competitions this season — yet two of those came off on Saturday.

Absences at this time of the season can dictate the end to a campaign. Just ask Arsenal. Last March, key defender William Saliba suffered a back injury that ruled him out for the remainder of the season. Without him, Arsenal won just three of their final nine league games and City overhauled them to claim their fifth title in six seasons.

With some winning momentum behind them right now, Liverpool will be hoping the injuries they picked up against Brentford do not have the same effect. “We have to see how much it costs us — we don’t know that yet,” Klopp said.

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