There is a word in Hebrew that popped into my mind as this depressing game was working its way inexorably into another difficult-to-explain Anfield collapse. Hebrew itself borrows it from Arabic, as often happens, and it is used to describe one’s in-the-moment (as opposed to historic) nemesis, someone you’re in an argument with or is just getting on your nerves in recent times, maybe bringing you bad luck.
Indeed, this season Brighton is Liverpool’s Chillbah.
Back in late November, Brighton were the first to truly frustrate Liverpool this season in this special way to which we are becoming unfortunately accustomed. The Reds still managed to pull themselves by the bootstraps after that game and string together a decent run all the way to Christmas, but it was in that game when the warning signs started flashing. We all know what happened since then. Forget a title challenge; from looking good money for a repeat only a month ago, the Merseysiders are now in serious danger of missing out on a Champions League spot next season, a frankly unthinkable situation.
We can try to assign blame, and there is clearly plenty to go around, because the team today looked just as dead as it had a couple of weeks ago. The momentum they had started to build dissipated, and with it the sharpness of the last pass, and quickness of thought with the last decision, and ultimately, that minor yet important detail known as the scoring of goals. We can point at Salah for his two soul-crushing horrendous misses, or get upset at Bobby for killing our first-half counters with poor passing, or wave our hands angrily at Klopp for failing to enter Jones much sooner as the team was screaming for a burst of creativity – and no, I am not going to assign any blame to Phillips, who did well in this game again and could do nothing to stop that stilly goal. We could go on, but it would be pointless to do so.
The reality is that Graham Potter’s men came, tried their very best, and found themselves surprisingly on top at the end, as much due to their lackluster opposition’s efforts as to their own. In the process, just like a good Chillbah, they nipped in the bud that all-important buildup of a head of steam that Liverpool so sorely needed in order to remount a serious challenge for the top spot. This loss will hurt the Reds’ morale, make no mistake about it, and their confidence along with it.
Steven Alzate will be happy with having his name on the score sheet, but to be fair, he didn’t know much about it until after the ball sort of struck him providentially. The real performers today are Adam Webster, who was everywhere he needed to be all the time, and his teammate Lewis Dunk, who played as courageously as he always does, maybe even more so. One of them deserves the man-of-match award, and I’ll hand it to the former because his performance was the more atypically exceptional. But that tells you something, in that the Seagulls didn’t actually play particularly well either; it’s just that Liverpool somehow managed to play even worse, as if Brighton were getting in their heads.
Which is ultimately precisely what your Chillbah does to you.
Liverpool can still try to salvage this season – it isn’t too late – but it has to start with a convincing win on Sunday against Pep’s squad, who seem to be in the kind of mood that momenta are made of. It’s going to take some doing. And it will have to start by raising the drawbridge of Anfield and letting the alligators back into the moat.