Saturday, December 4, 2021

Liverpool 2-2 Brighton and Hove Albion: Three things as Seagulls come back to frustrate Reds again

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Brighton and Hove Albion appear to be making a habit of getting good results against Liverpool. Last season, they beat them at Anfield and held out for a draw at the Amex. They made the Anfield trip again on Saturday, and though they didn’t leave with all three points this time, they will be happy with the day’s work.

Liverpool took the lead through captain Jordan Henderson in the fourth minute as Mohamed Salah stormed into the box and engaged his captain on the edge of the box, and Sadio Mane doubled it in the 24th by getting on the end of a fine cross by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to send his header past Robert Sanchez in the Brighton goal.

The visitors came back into the game in the 41st minute when Enock Mwepu fired a superb long-range strike and beat Alisson Becker, and finally, in the 65th minute, Leandro Trossard finished off a well-worked team move to set the final score.

Dropping points may cost Liverpool

One of the strangest things that can be said about the Merseysiders is that their levels dropped significantly all over the pitch following Mwepu’s goal. Before that, they looked like the Liverpool we’ve usually seen this season, the team that beat Atletico in Madrid and put five past Manchester United at Old Trafford last week. They scored twice, created several chances more, and even had a goal disallowed for handball as Mane blocked Sanchez and the ball ricocheted off his arm into the net.

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But after conceding, the home side seemed stunned and were by no means the better team on the pitch anymore. They played well again for a little while after the break and had another goal disallowed, this time for Salah being half a yard offside, but that was about it.

The remaining part of the game belonged completely to the visitors, and in the end they might even consider themselves unlucky as they wasted several good chances and had a goal disallowed themselves for offside.

Liverpool players looked tired and lacked focus for a large part of the match, and that’s highly unusual for the team led by Jurgen Klopp. The German tactician and his staff frequently speak about intensity, and it’s usually a very notable part of their game, but not on this occasion.

The optimists among the Liverpool supporters will be pointing to the fact that it was another match without defeat, their 24th in a row in all competitions, and that is certainly something to be admired. But the fact of the matter is that this was their fourth draw from 10 Premier League matches this season, and though they remain the only unbeaten team in the league, too many points-sharing occasions could prove costly in the title race. The competition is fierce, and this setback has allowed Chelsea to move three points clear at the top after beating Newcastle at St. James Park. The only consolation in that aspect will be that Manchester City suffered a shocking defeat at home against Crystal Palace.

Brighton – not a surprise anymore

Brighton have often been described as the surprise of the season in the English top flight, moving in and out of top four while many expected them to be fighting for survival. However, with 10 matches played, their quality can hardly be doubted, and nobody should be surprised when they play a great game against a top team anymore.

Even last week, when they were beaten 1-4 at home by Manchester City, the Seagulls had trouble in the first half and the defending champions were ruthless. The teams headed to the break with the scoreboard saying 0-3, but Brighton raised their game significantly in the second half and were a match for City in most aspects of the game.

Graham Potter has produced a well-oiled machine, made up of players who execute his designs to perfection. The system is the most important thing here – it doesn’t revolve around a particular player, which should be clear considering the fact that Neal Maupay, Brighton’s leading scorer, sat the entire match against Liverpool out on the bench and wasn’t missed at all.

One of the more notable traits of Brighton’s game is the way they keep their lines close together and close down any space that the opposition might seek to exploit in their half. Liverpool’s attackers, especially Roberto Firmino, are known for their tendency to drop between the lines, pick the ball up at around 30 yards and work their way goalwards from there. That was exactly what the Seagulls didn’t allow to happen too much after Mwepu’s goal gave them hope.

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Whenever a Liverpool player took the ball in that area, he was immediately surrounded by blue-and-white shirts and closed down with such intensity that even passing backwards became a difficult challenge. On the other side of the pitch, Potter’s men themselves are well-versed with exploiting any space left open by the opposition. They keep the ball well and pass it around with speed and accuracy, and their movement is very difficult for defences to track.

All in all, Brighton’s performances, results and table placement are no fluke, no matter of mere luck. There is a lot more to come from this team before this season is out.

 Injuries to plague Liverpool again?

Liverpool suffered greatly last season when their centre-back ranks were depleted with injuries. At the moment, a similar problem, though perhaps not quite as severe, is plaguing their midfield section.

Klopp was without Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara, James Milner and Harvey Elliott for this match, and with Henderson, Curtis Jones and Naby Keita starting, he only had Oxlade-Chamberlain as an option from the bench. That option was used up in the first half, when Keita went down holding his leg after only 20 minutes, taking the total number of unavailable midfielders to five.

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Keita was a doubt for the clash in the first place, having been recklessly mowed down last week by Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, who received a straight red card for his tackle. The Guinean apparently recovered in time and looked very lively from the start, winning possession in the opposition half and linking play very well, and his exit significantly hampered Liverpool’s efforts for the remainder of the game. Oxlade-Chamberlain, though he assisted Mane for the second goal, simply isn’t the same type of player and couldn’t reproduce Keita’s contribution.

The Reds have two games left to play before the November international break starts, the Champions League rematch against Atletico Madrid at Anfield on Wednesday, and a visit to the London Stadium to take on West Ham at the end of the week. Klopp will be sweating over the availability of Keita for those matches, and hoping that at least one of Fabinho and Thiago is ready to return in a few days.

But at the moment, it seems both Liverpool and Georginio Wijnaldum are regretting their parting of ways this summer. The Dutchman has made no secret of his disappointment with a lack of game-time at Paris Saint-Germain, while Liverpool could certainly use a midfielder whose fitness record was practically perfect during his five years at Anfield.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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