Liverpool look for top gear
Liverpool’s season has stalled with a five-match winless run against Premier League opposition, although four of those have been draws and they have still performed to a reasonably high level.
The latest draw was 0-0 at home to Arsenal in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final on Thursday night when Jurgen Klopp’s side could not break through despite Arsenal playing three-quarters of the match with 10 men.
It will be difficult for Liverpool to find top gear without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita, who are all at the Africa Cup of Nations.
In addition Thiago, Harvey Elliott, Nat Phillips and Divock Origi are all out with injury.
Klopp is likely to stick with the front three of Roberto Firmino, Takumi Minamino and Diogo Jota who started against Arsenal.
Liverpool remain strong at the back with Alisson’s goal protected by Virgil Van Dijk, Joel Matip, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.
Brentford bid to bounce back
Brentford have established a foothold in mid-table in their first season in the Premier League, lying 13th with 23 points.
That puts Thomas Frank’s side well on course for safety just after the halfway point of their campaign, with a gap of 12 points back to the relegation zone.
The Bees are coming off their worst result of the season, however, after last week’s 4-1 defeat at Southampton.
Mads Bech Sorensen and Mathias Jensen, both left out of the starting XI then, look set to return, while Rico Henry is close to fitness after injury.
Frank Onyeka is at the Africa Cup of Nations, while David Raya, Josh Dasilva, Charlie Goode and Julian Jeanvier are sidelined.
It is difficult to assess the potential impact on Liverpool of Salah and Mane both being away at the Africa Cup of Nations, other than the plain observation that most teams would miss two strikers of their quality.
Missing one is a fairly regular occurrence and it would be hard to argue that has a detrimental effect on Liverpool’s performances, but the absence of both is rare and the impact is difficult to pin down.
Their absences do not mean Liverpool will be unable to find a way to win, but perhaps that factor reduces their banker status. The hosts are 1.330/100 to win.
It has to be noted that it has not taken attackers with the class of Salah and Mane to pierce the Brentford defence on the road. Burnley, Newcastle, Tottenham, Leeds, Brighton and Southampton have all scored at least twice against the Bees.
Brentford rank 10th in the away table and have lost only four out of 10 on the road, which is a reasonable performance in their first Premier League season.
Their away form has been slipping, however, as their early record was W2 D2 L0 but it has been W0 D2 L4 since then and they have conceded at least two goals in each of those last six winless matches.
As well as the absences of Salah and Mane, the other big source of optimism for Brentford is how they performed in the reverse fixture when Liverpool’s key attackers were playing.
Frank’s side had notable success in targeting Liverpool’s back post from wide areas, particularly against Alexander-Arnold, and came back from 2-1 and 3-2 down to force an impressive 3-3 draw.
It is questionable whether they will be able to create as many openings at Anfield and achieving parity will be difficult given their own shortcomings on the road in recent games.
The expectation is that Liverpool will be able to match other recent hosts in registering at least two goals against Brentford.
With Van Dijk at the heart of a strong defence, that would give them a decent chance of covering the Asian handicap off -1.5 at 1.9110/11.
Liverpool top the table for matches with over 2.5 goals, having had 15 out of 20 (75%) above that mark, including six out of nine at home (67%).
Two of the three under 2.5 goals at Anfield were Liverpool’s first two home games of the season and their scoring rate has generally been on the rise.
Klopp’s side are the Premier League’s second-highest scorers (52, only one goal fewer than Manchester City) and their matches average 3.50 per game (also second in the Premier League, this time just behind Leicester).
The question mark, again, is over their ability to maintain those figures without Salah and Mane.
Brentford’s away matches rank fairly high for goals, averaging three per game even though there is an even split of under/over 2.5 goals.
Goals tallies have been on the rise in their away games, with five of the last seven going over 2.5 goals and four of those also over 3.5.
Only one of the last 17 teams playing at Anfield in the Premier League for the first time have won (D5 L11), with Blackpool winning 2-1 in October 2010. 12 of those sides have failed to score, including each of the last three: Bournemouth (0-1), Huddersfield (0-3) and Brighton (0-4). Liverpool are 2.021/1 to win to nil.