Jurgen Klopp on missing Sadio Mane and Mo Salah
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Jurgen Klopp could hardly hide his delight as he watched Liverpool sweep Brentford aside in a comprehensive 3-0 triumph at Anfield. The Reds brushed off the absence of star duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to keep their title bid alive thanks to goals from Fabinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Takumi Minamino.
Given that Brentford ran Liverpool ragged at times in the reverse fixture in west London earlier the season, this result was no mean feat for Klopp’s depleted squad.
The absence of Salah and Mane has, understandably, dominated the narrative surrounding the Reds over the past few weeks.
Their importance to Liverpool’s success over the past few years cannot be understated – Sunday’s game marked the first occasion since Salah joined the club back in 2017 that both he and Mane have missed a Premier League match.
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Given that the pair have scored a staggering 48% of Liverpool’s goals during that time, it’s no surprise that fans and pundits alike were urging Klopp to dip into the transfer market this month to keep Liverpool’s title bids on track.
But the German was adamant that his squad could cope without his first-choice attacking duo and Naby Keita, who is also at the Africa Cup of Nations.
And he was proved right after a trio of unlikely goalscorers kept Liverpool in the hunt for their second Premier League crown in three years behind Manchester City.
It was Oxlade-Chamberlain who was given the opportunity from the start to deputise in a more advanced role on the right-hand side of Liverpool’s three-pronged attack.
Klopp had hinted as far back as pre-season that the former Arsenal ace was being groomed as an option to fill in upfront.
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He didn’t look out of place, either.
Oxlade-Chamberlain made sure of the points with a textbook diving header to double Liverpool’s lead just after the hour following sterling work on the left-hand side from the consistently excellent Andy Robertson.
Given that Salah has been operating on a different planet this season, nobody was ever going to be able to replace the Egyptian wizard this month – even if Klopp had persuaded owners FSG to open their chequebook.
But Oxlade-Chamberlain proved on Sunday that he can be an adequate enough stand-in – if the ankle injury that forced him off isn’t too severe.
It’s quite fitting that Minamino, who replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain, followed in his footsteps by becoming the second unlikely hero to keep Liverpool’s title bid alive and kicking to kill off any lingering hopes of another stirring Brentford fightback.
While Oxlade-Chamberlain has, at least, had spells in the team and contributed effectively during his Reds career, it’s been a different story for Minamino.
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The Japanese ace has struggled to make any sort of impression at all since he arrived on Merseyside back in January 2020.
It’s not inconceivable that Minamino is probably fighting to save his Anfield career over the next few weeks until Mane and Salah return.
He made the best possible start with his goalscoring introduction against the Bees as Liverpool showcased their impressive strength in depth.
The Reds are waiting on Divock Origi to return from injury to further bolster their side until their potent pair return to England.
Given that the Belgian hitman, whose already a cult hero on the terraces of Anfield, has netted five times himself this season too, suddenly, Klopp’s stance on refusing to beg for new arrivals isn’t looking too stubborn after all.
There’ll be tougher tests ahead than Brentford before the Reds’ missing trifecta return from AFCON duty.
But some of Liverpool’s forgotten men have already emerged from the shadows to prove that they can be unlikely heroes until Klopp’s side are at full-strength again.
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