Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 8/5
Brighton and Hove Albion will be welcoming Liverpool to the Amex Stadium on Sunday in the fourth round of the FA Cup. It will be the third time these teams meet this season, second at Brighton’s home this month, and the troubled Liverpool are yet to beat the excellent Seagulls.
Brighton and Hove Albion
Brighton were a fine team last season under Graham Potter, and they’re arguably even better this season despite Potter leaving to take charge at Chelsea in September. Roberto De Zerbi has obviously continued the good work, and the club themselves are proving time and again that they know how to recognize talent and turn it into top class.
Not everything has been going well, however, with Leandro Trossard recently rebelling against De Zerbi’s selection and subsequently forcing a move to Arsenal this month, but the team continue to play as well as ever without the frustrated Belgium international. In the Premier League, they are sixth with 31 points and they may yet have a shot of making it into the top four; they have an eight-point deficit compared to Manchester United in fourth, but they have a game in hand on the 20-time English champions and two games in hand on fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, who are five points ahead. It may have seemed like a dream early in the season, but not anymore.
It’s hardly surprising that some of the biggest clubs in England and beyond are said to be keeping tabs on some of Brighton’s best players, most notably midfielders Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister, including Liverpool, and the club obviously face a battle to keep hold of them in the near future as they insist at the moment that neither of them will leave the Amex this month. Caicedo has, however, reportedly expressed a desire to follow Trossard to Arsenal after the club rejected a £60 million offer for him from the Gunners. It could well be that the Seagulls set a bad precedent with Trossard, and that more sought-after players might start considering whether the time to move on has come.
Brighton’s last-six competitive run began with a 1-3 win away to Southampton on Boxing Day. Since then, they’ve lost 2-4 at home to league leaders Arsenal, smashed Everton 1-4 away, breezed past Middlesbrough 1-5 away in the previous cup round, destroyed Liverpool 3-0 at home in the league, and eventually drew 2-2 away to Leicester City last week.
Midfielder Adam Lallana will not be available to face his old club again, after coming off injured in their previous encounter. Midfielders Jakub Moder (knee) and Facundo Bouonanotte (head), and centre-back Levi Colwill (muscle), are also ruled out.
Robert Sanchez will be in goal. Joel Veltman and Pervis Estupinan will be on the defensive flanks, with the pair of Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster in between as the centre-backs. Given the situation with Caicedo, it’s likely than Billy Gilmour will take his place in the middle of the park, joined by Pascal Gross and with Mac Allister playing further up. Striker Evan Ferguson, only 18, will lead the line again, with Kaoru Mitoma and Solly March providing support from wide positions.
It seems Brighton’s season in terms of results has been just about as good as Liverpool’s has been bad, and the Merseysiders failing to beat the Seagulls either at Anfield or at the Amex in the league is a good indicator of that difference. There’s plenty not working right for Liverpool at both ends of the pitch, and the large majority of the wider football public agrees that it all stems from issues in between.
It’s the midfield section where Liverpool haven’t been performing well, losing challenges in the middle of the park, and failing to either provide suitable protection to the back line, or to create proper chances for the forwards to score. Another valid point is that this team has lost a lot of its drive as a consequence of heavy heartbreak as they finished runners-up both in the Premier League and the Champions League last season, despite winning both domestic cups in England. Numerous injuries have surely played their part too. Whatever the root cause may be, it’s up to manager Jurgen Klopp, who still enjoys plenty of support from the fans and the club hierarchy, to put things right as soon as possible.
There has been expectation that the six-time European champions would strengthen their midfield ranks this month, but it seems forward Cody Gakpo, who arrived from PSV Eindhoven a few weeks ago, is set to be their only signing in this window.
At the moment, Liverpool are ninth in the league with 29 points, 10 less than Newcastle and Manchester United in third and fourth, respectively, seven less than Spurs in fifth, two less than Brighton and Fulham, and one less than Brenford. It should be said that the Reds have one or two games in hand on all these teams except Brighton.
Liverpool remain without the services of forwards Luis Diaz (knee), Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota (both calf), as well as midfielder Arthur Melo (thigh) and defender Virgil van Dijk (hamstring). Winger Fabio Carvalho is also out in a fresh injury worry for Klopp, though it doesn’t look as the 20-year-old will be out for long. Veteran midfielder James Milner and defender Nathaniel Phillips have both been ill recently, and while Klopp says Milner is ready to play, Phillips will probably sit this one out.
Speaking to the press on Friday, Klopp said he hadn’t made his mind up about the lineup yet, with several fringe players keen on proving themselves as the regular starters feel off form.
Therefore, the German tactician could be tempted to give Caoimhin Kelleher a chance in goal ahead of Alisson Becker, just as he did in the replay against Wolves in the previous round. Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konate are likely to start ahead of Joel Matip in the heart of defence, which means Trent Alexander-Arnold starting on the right. Andy Robertson will likely be given the spot on the left ahead of Kostas Tsimikas. Young Stefan Bajcetic, who has just signed a new long-term contract with the club, could be given the midfield base with Fabinho consigned to the bench, with Thiago Alcantara to provide some experience in the middle of the park and Harvey Elliott to play closer to the attacking line. Darwin Nunez will probably return to the starting XI in the central attacking role, with Gakpo on the left and Mohamed Salah on the right.
Brighton managed not to allow the Trossard situation to disrupt them much, but it’s questionable if they can do it again with the Caicedo rebellion added to their worry list at the moment. The Ecuador international has been so important for their fine form this season, that his absence under such circumstances might prove harder to deal with as Liverpool come to the Amex with a point to prove against this particular opponent.
For the first time this season, it feels like Liverpool might actually beat Brighton.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 8/5
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