With the 2021-22 Premier League season kicking off in two weeks, more and more pundits have placed their bets on the top four and there seems to be a familiar pattern.
A mini-crisis. A title wobble. Cataclysmic shift in momentum. All possibilities as Liverpool travelled down to Brighton on Saturday afternoon.
Thankfully for those dressed in red there were no such problems.
The magic feet of Mohamed Salah ensured Liverpool left the AMEX with another crucial three points, extending their lead to seven points at the top.
A brilliant second half cameo from the Egyptian King dug Liverpool out of a stalemate and potentially dropped points.
Playing at the point of a 4-3-2-1, Salah much like his colleagues found it difficult to impact the first half as Brighton remained steadfast.
Jurgen Klopp must’ve had stern words with his Liverpool side at the break as from the restart the league leaders showed a sharpness synonymous with their first 21 games.
Spearheading this was none other than perennial saviour Salah. The Liverpool striker gave Brighton fits from the very first minute of the second half.
The warning signs came early on as Salah forced David Button’s first save of the game with a firm left footed strike.
If there were any doubts Brighton had woken the beast, it was confirmed just minutes later.
The Egyptian sent Pascal Gross on a merry dance, before the defender foolishly dragged him down. As Liverpool players looked to referee Kevin Friend, he duly obliged in handing Liverpool an opportunity from 12 yards.
As he has done so often this season Salah did the business cannoning the ball to his left, bulging the net and energising the away end. Button guessed right, however could do nothing to stop the powerful strike.
For all of Brighton’s persistence, one moment of rashness changed the complexity of the match.
Prior to the goal, Brighton had left Liverpool searching for answers in Sussex, unable to capitalise on their dominance in possession.
On nine minutes Liverpool created the first opportunity of the match. Roberto Firmino was just inches away from a converting an Andrew Robertson cross. The Brazilian’s studs scraping the ball, sprawling away from the Brighton goal.
For a side winless in their past three, Brighton set up with surety, content to engage Liverpool on the counter attack when possible.
A record 30,682 packed into the AMEX on a wet and typically frosty Saturday in January. Yet the in climate weather did little to quieten Brightonian voices.
With Trent Alexander-Arnold looking lame after falling over a ball in the warm up, Brighton were encouraged with the space left in behind for the surging Jürgen Locadia.
Brighton’s only chance of the first half was severely wasted on 15 minutes. Glen Murray had scored seven goals in his last ten at the AMEX, yet could only manage to loft a free header over the bar.
Liverpool have yet to concede a single headed goal in the campaign and looked unlikely to be breached at any point in the first half.
Xherdan Shaqiri came closest for the Merseysiders heading just wide from six yards out. One can cut some slack for the 5’ 7” Swiss who must have been as surprised as Chris Hughton to be allowed so much space.
The second half proved a much different showing from both sides. Brighton’s most fervent involvement came from their fans, more than happy to express vitriol toward referee Kevin Friend. Although, they could have no qualms about the penalty.
Gross looked to turn from villain to hero, yet his goal bound shot was blocked at the first time of asking by the makeshift Liverpool defence. Fabinho and Virgil Van Dijk looked a solid partnership, with calmness and precision proving a hallmark of Liverpool’s three and four.
In complete control after the goal, the reds caressed the ball around between defence and midfield. As Brighton looked to advance themselves in the game more space was left for Liverpool’s adventurous forwards to operate in.
Locadia earned Brighton’s first corner of the game just before the 70th minute, his speculative effort from distance counted as Brighton’s first shot on target.
However, the bulk of chances belonged to Liverpool, Firmino forcing another save out of Button, almost bobbling a shot hit directly towards him.
With 10 minutes to play, Georginio Wijnaldum came inches away from ending the contest, dragging his fierce shot ever so wide.
As the game dragged towards its end, tempers flared from those in blood red and blue and white.
Particularly the imperious Van Dijk who was utterly demonstrative toward Alexander-Arnold for not holding the required defensive line.Proving a tangible insight into the renewed organisation and discipline of Liverpool’s backline.
Brighton’s directness looked to unnerve the reds late on. However, the away side remained unbudging, sealing another clean sheet and yet another crucial three points. Attention now shifts to the Etihad on Monday night where Manchester City will look to cut the Liverpool lead back to four points.