Football feels secondary atimes and this was one of those days at Anfield as Liverpool produced a fitting tribute and mark of solidarity to Luis Diaz, whose parents were kidnapped in Colombia on Saturday evening.
The Liverpool forward was understandably absent from the squad and replaced by Diogo Jota in the starting XI, who lifted aloft Diaz’s No 7 shirt after his goal opened the scoring. Team-mates joined Jota in hand-gesturing love-hearts and the Colombian’s No 7.
Diaz’s mother Cilenis Marulanda was ‘rescued’ after being reportedly mobbed by armed men on motorbikes, but his father Luis Manuel Diaz was last night still missing and said to be in a hostage situation. Police were offering 200million pesos for ‘crucial information’.
‘We had to obviously make a late change because of the private situation involving Luis Diaz,’ said Jurgen Klopp before the match. ‘It’s a worrying situation for all of us and it was a pretty tough night. I have never had that before. It’s a new experience I never needed.’
Liverpool ultimately eased to victory in a win dedicated to Diaz and his family, with Jota leading the tributes to the Colombian by holding aloft a No 7 shirt following his first-half goal. Darwin Nunez and Mo Salah also scored in a convincing attacking display.
This was a third win in just over a week for the Reds after they dispatched Merseyside rivals Everton, French side Toulouse and now a stubborn Nottingham Forest side. Klopp calls this side ‘Liverpool 2.0’ after a summer rebuild but much is the same as his all-conquering teams.
Of course there are new elements, such as the ever-improving, prolific Nunez and the multi-functional midfield starring £130million worth of new boys in Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai and Ryan Gravenberch.
But the fulcrum of the side is Salah, undoubtedly still the star man. The Egyptian’s goal today was one of his easiest in a Liverpool shirt – he had an empty goal to aim at after a mess-up from Matt Turner – but this was another dazzling display to show why he is so priceless to Liverpool.
They turned down offers north of £150m in the summer for Salah and his early-season form has shown why, with 10 goals and four assists, which is a goal contribution in each game bar one – which was when his assist to Diaz at Tottenham was controversially chalked off.
Salah also became the third Liverpool player to score in each of the club’s first five home league games of a season, after John Alridge in 1987 and Harry Chambers in 1922. In a 1949 Liverpool Echo obituary of Chambers, he was described as a ‘smiler’ and ‘pigeon toes’.
Steve Cooper’s Forest side came here with a clear plan and executed that perfectly for the first 30 minutes. They sat deep in a compact 5-4-1 shape and allowed Liverpool possession but no space to create chances or get in behind. Turner barely made a save in those early stages.
The game-plan meant they offered little to nothing in an attacking sense but Forest had pace on the counter-attack in former Manchester United man Anthony Elanga and his runs in behind caused reasons to be fearful for the Liverpool defence.
On one occasion after nine minutes, Elanga was sent through on goal after a long ball and rushed a shot before being flagged for offside. A better option would have been to leave the ball to Nicolas Dominguez, who was onside and in a more dangerous position.
It was hardly inspiring and the away end had little to cheer about but they still outsung the home crowd, as Forest’s blunt tactics silenced a frustrated Anfield crowd who made noise only to voice anger at time-wasting by away goalkeeper Turner.
But all of Forest’s good work was undone by defender Murillo on 31 minutes, when the Brazilian defender tried to be too fancy in attempting to take on a couple of Liverpool midfielders. He lost the ball and, for the first time in the match, Liverpool had a man advantage on their attack.
As they so often do, Klopp’s side made it count and were ahead just seconds after Murillo’s mistake. Mac Allister robbed the Brazilian of possession and sent Nunez through on goal, via Salah. Nunez hit a venomous shot that Turner could only parry to Jota.
Jota tapped into an empty net to take his Premier League goal tally to 50, just the second Portuguese to reach a half-century after Cristiano Ronaldo. Jota was a late addition to the XI after Diaz understandably was not part of the squad.
Minutes later, Liverpool doubled their advantage as Nunez continued his hot-streak in front of goal. He missed an open goal in a scoring performance on Thursday but even the Uruguayan could not miss this one as Szoboszlai put the ball on a plate.
Nunez is also in fine form, moving up to double figures for goal contributions after good performances for club and country
Nunez fired into the roof of the net from three years out to score his eighth of the season for club and country.
In a Liverpool shirt, it was his sixth of the campaign to go with four assists which takes him to double figures for goal contributions, over halfway to last term’s tally already.
So it would not be an overreaction to say Murillo’s lapse in concentration was enough to throw away this game, which was one-way traffic from start to finish. The second half felt an exercise in damage limitation for Cooper’s men.
Salah made it three towards the end when Szoboszlai got his second Premier League assist after a long, hopeful pass coerced Turner to rush out and completely miss the ball, giving the Egyptian an empty net to fire into.