I was worried about this game before it started.
Graham Potter has built an impressive machine at Brighton, and they have been proving their worth repeatedly this season. It’s also the kind of team that can legitimately hurt the Reds, which they did today. In truth, they could have caused even more harm. And yet, after the first half hour, it looked like there was nothing to worry about. We were 3-0 up, and while the Seagulls were throwing punches the whole time, none of them were landing. Could we score five for the fourth time in a row? That would be some achievement.
I was counting those proverbial chickens before they hatched.
Then Mane’s second goal got (correctly) scratched off, Mwepu scored an absolute worldie of a goal, and suddenly the nerves were settling in. You could feel it in the crowd even while watching on TV; Anfield went quiet.
When Trossard got a well-earned and deserved second for Albion, it wasn’t as much a shutting down of the crowd. It was, instead, a confirmation of its fears. I hate to say this, but apart from Salah’s (also correctly) canceled goal, Liverpool looked beat. Were it not for a marginal offside for Trossard, he would have indeed beaten them.
Is it the defense? The communications between Konate and Van Dijk, and them and the fullbacks, are certainly not quite there yet – this should improve as the season progresses and the Frenchman gets better used to the system. Van Dijk himself is still not back to his form prior to that terrible injury. A team like Brighton is well suited to take advantage of the resulting gaps. Maybe that’s all it is, and if so, then Liverpool will continue to strengthen, and eventually catch up to the race leaders. The Premier League is a marathon, it’s still early, and after all, the Reds are the only team to have not lost yet.
Does the midfield have a share of the responsibility? Today, I’m not so sure. To me, Hendo was the man-of-the-match; his goal was great, but it was more in his positioning and interventions, as well as his efforts to keep his teammates in the game mentally, that he earned it. Were it not for him, I daresay Brighton would have won. Keita was lively before he went off, but Ox had a pretty good game today, and his pass for Mane’s goal was a worldie as well. If any of them had a weaker showing, it was youngster Jones, who I thought should have come off earlier than he did. He wasn’t really pressing the way he needed to against an explosive team like Brighton, and sometimes, that’s all it takes.
If anything, it was the fifth part of Liverpool’s defensive foursome that was causing the Reds much of the trouble in transitions. Bobby Firmino did his regular job in the harassment department, but then constantly gave the ball away with poor passing, and that led to rapid counters. His unique – and often brilliant – role as a “defensive forward” often delivers much of the oxygen that Liverpool needs to keep their high level of engagement. In a game like this, against a team like this, it’s essential. Combined with the lack of support from Jones, it gave Brighton a fair bit of room to create chances from the back, and they capitalized.
As disappointing as the result was, especially considering that Liverpool were two up, one must admit that the visitors could have easily walked away with a precious victory. So all in all, honors even. Let’s hope the return game at Falmer will provide the setting for a more emphatic statement from the Reds.