Three to Go
The scoreline may seem normal. Beyond that, this game was nothing but routine. For one thing, Liverpool broke another record, fastest to thirty wins, and continues to close in on several others in a remarkable season. Yet Brighton did well. They exposed the formidable Liverpool defense as careless at times. They could have done more, gotten more from this game than they did. It’s not entirely clear that they believed it, especially after an opening that was so rocking, so hammering, that its impact might have easily been soul-crushing for any opposition.
By the time game time rolled into double-digit minutes, Liverpool were two up. Both goals were peaches, and both started with one Naby Keita, who was illustrating why he is so highly rated by the backroom staff, and why so much was paid for him. His intelligent positioning and pressing resulted in two turned possessions; on the first occasion, it was talisman Firmino’s astonishingly quick thinking and ability to read the game that made the goal easy. I cannot imagine either Salah or Mane not pouncing on a beauty of a pass by Keita across the penalty spot. They might have scored, but it wasn’t obvious. Bobby, though, somehow had the presence of mind to fake it instead, taking out the defender and making Salah’s peach of a follow-through the kind of goal he can score blindfolded and on crutches. He still tucked it in the corner with aplomb, and it was on like red dawn (sorry about that).
The second one, coming only two minutes later, was even peachier, and that it came from the Reds’ newly heralded skipper made it oh so sweet. A thunderous strike from just outside the box after a “sort-of” assist from Salah (who might not have been trying to pass at all) was a well-deserved reward for the duckling-turned-swan, applying an emphatic finish to Henderson’s unexpectedly strong bid for player of the season.
You might be forgiven for thinking that the game was over by then. Were Liverpool Manchester City, it would have been. But Liverpool doesn’t really do big wins this season, and the Albions clawed their way back into the game, ultimately earning a well-deserved goal after the kind of play that usually comes from Liverpool, carving open the defense with a couple of quick one-twos, and culminating in their best players today, Lamptey and Trossard, assisting and striking respectively.
Then the second half started and Klopp replaced a young Nico Williams – who had given a respectable performance in his first premier league start, but was looking like he might get himself a second yellow due to a noticeable lack of experience and composure – with a seemingly bemused Andy Robertson, and the game turned into the typical kind of grinding machine that this relentless Red squad has been applying all season. The third goal was coming, and when it did, it was downright cheeky. In Football Manager, Robbo’s delivery and Salah’s finish would have been accompanied by a comment along the lines of “Ryan is disappointed to let one through at his near post”. Not to take anything from Salah, whose finish was absolutely superb. Add that goal to his otherwise impressive performance, and Salah is easily the man of the match, no further discussion needed.
Ninety-two points, four games to go. Victories in three of them will see a number of formidable records erased from the books, especially if two come at Anfield. The task gets smaller with each outing. If it does happen, one would have to wonder how long they would stand. After all, who thought the Centurions’ incredible record would be within reach so quickly only two years ago?