Liverpool show unity with absent Díaz as they sweep aside Nottingham Forest

Diogo Jota holds a shirt of Luis Diaz aloft after giving Liverpool the lead. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

Luis Díaz was on Liverpool minds throughout, news of his parents’ kidnapping in Colombia making preparations for Nottingham Forest’s visit “the most difficult I’ve ever had in my life” according to Jürgen Klopp. It speaks volumes about his team’s professionalism, togetherness and quality how Forest were dismissed with consummate ease to make it eight wins in eight appearances at Anfield this season.

Díaz was understandably absent from the squad amid his family ordeal. His replacement, Diogo Jota, got his fifth goal of the campaign before Darwin Núñez and Mohamed Salah strikes delivered a more accurate reflection of Liverpool’s superiority. Cody Gakpo thought he had made it four in injury time but was denied by a VAR review for offside. Not since 1985-86, when Kenny Dalglish’s team won a league and FA Cup double, have Liverpool started a home campaign with eight or more consecutive wins. “I told the boys after the game that it is a really good sign that they played so well and still have so much space for improvement,” said Klopp.

Liverpool were up against a deep defensive block for the second Premier League home game in succession and, as in the Merseyside derby, struggled to break down their opponents until capitalising on a centre-back’s mistake. That said, the hosts were supremely comfortable in possession before the opening goal, revelling in their command of Forest and patient in the knowledge their time would come.

Steve Cooper set up the visitors in a 5-4-1 after a hamstring injury sustained by Chris Wood, and with Taiwo Awoniyi only on the bench after a layoff, severely reduced Forest’s striking options. “Two days ago we had prepared with a back four but we were forced to change by Chris’s injury and only had Anthony [Elanga] who could start as a 9,” said the Forest manager. “No excuses there, but the plan was to play on a small pitch against Liverpool. If you open it up and play on a big pitch they are one of the best teams in the world in that situation.”

The defensive approach must have been draining for attack-minded players such as Morgan Gibbs-White, Nicolás Domínguez and Elanga but Forest’s carelessness in possession, on the few occasions they did have the ball, was their biggest problem. Both first-half goals stemmed from Forest losing the ball in the Liverpool half and being carved open before they had a chance to regroup.

Liverpool’s breakthrough arrived when Murillo, who had started well on the left of Forest’s three-man central defence, got carried away attempting to dribble through the home midfield. His run was halted by Alexis Mac Allister, who enjoyed another quietly impressive game in the holding midfield role and released Salah on the counterattack. Forest were exposed for the first time, outnumbered three v two, and though Matt Turner parried Núñez’s drive from Salah’s pass the rebound fell kindly for Jota to convert.

Darwin Núñez scores Liverpool’s second goal.
Darwin Núñez scores Liverpool’s second goal. Photograph: Paul Greenwood/Shutterstock

Jota celebrated by sprinting to the Liverpool bench to collect his teammate’s No 7 shirt, which he paraded to all four sides of the stadium. Another considerate, classy touch was shown before kick-off by the Forest fans, who displayed a banner that read: “Respect the 97 – solidarity with survivors – no to tragedy chanting” for the second season running at Anfield.

Cooper’s gameplan had to change but Forest were caught out for a second time minutes after Jota’s opener. After a visiting attack broke down on the edge of the Liverpool area Jota sparked another devastating counter when finding Dominik Szoboszlai in space in midfield. The Hungary international exchanged passes with Salah, who released Szoboszlai to the byline with a brilliantly disguised ball. Núñez volleyed the midfielder’s first-time cross into the roof of the net from close range, and Liverpool were comfortably on course for another home win.

Turner parried long-range shots from Ryan Gravenberch and Szoboszlai in quick succession as Liverpool pressed for a third before the break. It was a risky strategy from the American goalkeeper, especially as he kept parrying shots back into the danger zone, but a bigger calamity awaited him in a more subdued second half.

Turner sprinted out his area in an attempt to intercept a searching long ball from Szoboszlai but misread the flight. He had no need to rush out with the substitute Harry Toffolo covering but the ball sailed over Turner and left Salah with an open goal for his latest slice of Liverpool history. Salah rolled home the gift to become the third Liverpool player to score in the opening five home league games of a season, after Harry Chambers in 1922 and John Aldridge in 1987.

Forest carried more of a threat after the interval – they couldn’t have carried less of one – but Nicolás Domínguez failed to connect with a Morg an Gibbs-White cross in front of goal and Elanga sent a volley crashing against the crossbar from Ryan Yates’s centre.