Brighton & Hove Albion 1 – Liverpool 5: Match Review and Analysis

Liverpool may have ridden their luck at times but make no mistake, our 3-0 win away to Stoke was a very impressive result. Jürgen Klopp tolled the dice a little bit with his team selection but it paid off, rotating the squad at the ideal time. Some people felt a little bit disappointed when they saw the team sheet, but who isn’t good enough that came in, I wonder? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a £40 million midfielder that Arsenal wanted to keep hold of and Chelsea were keen on buying. Dominic Solanke might not be world-class just yet, but he’s certainly got the makings of a decent striker and most people have been crying out for him to come in at some point. Mané was our best player last year so he’s not exactly poor. The reality is that we’ve got an excellent squad for the first time in years.

I mentioned in Stoke City review that Klopp had to make a choice about whether to go strong before the Sevilla match and every decision since then has been influenced by the team he selected. As supporters we might feel that he should’ve saved his strongest side for the game against our Premier League top four rivals in Chelsea, but the manager will likely have felt that you could pick your strongest team and still lose to them, so why not go with a team you believe in and be stronger for the matches that follow? Certainly the win over the Potters will have given the manager at least some small sense of justification, but if you then head to the Amex and drop points then you’re essentially back to square one. So how did it work out in the end?

We Need To Strengthen Our Defence In January

Regardless of the end result, our starting eleven reflected the mistakes that we made in the summer transfer window. An injury to Joel Matip that might yet rule him out for the entirety of January combined with an illness picked up by Joe Gomez meant that we were down to the bare bones for this game. Ragnar Klavan wasn’t over the illness that ruled him out of the Stoke game so we ended up in a position where Emre Can needed to fill in at centre-back. Klopp was unlikely to be too worried about that fact before kick-off, given that we were likely to be the dominant side in the game and Brighton were unlikely to keep us penned in for long periods. Yet the manager will also know that he was a little bit fortunate with the timing. This could easily have been the situation we found ourselves in before a match against the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal.

Irrespective of the ability of the players we’ve got, we just don’t have the depth required at the back of a team that is likely to be playing an important match every three or four days. Our summer decision to chase Virgil van Dijk is, for me, proof that the manager knows all of this. Still, the inability of the club to get the deal over the line when it seemed like it was all but done has left us weak in one of the most important areas on the pitch. It means that we’ll need to go hot and heavy for a central defender in January if we’re going to maintain the challenges we’re mounting in the Premier League and Europe as well as make an attempt to win the FA Cup. Despite the media narrative, our defence isn’t actually that bad. Nevertheless, the fitness issues that have plagued us should be a surprise given Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip’s recent history. Reinforcements needed ASAP.

Coutinho Was Reinvigorated By A Rest

Perhaps the most pleasing thing about our win over Stoke was the fact that Philippe Coutinho was hardly missed. There was a time in a our recent past when he was our best and most important player by some distance. He didn’t look in good form against Sevilla or Chelsea, though, and in those old days we wouldn’t have been able to drop him and maintain our level. For all of the problems with our recruitment policy at the back, the ‘boffins on the laptops’ certainly know how to spot a forward and our strength in depth in the final third have given Klopp the ability to bench him for ninety minutes without the entire team suffering as a consequence.

The result of giving the Brazilian a rest last week was that he was on fire for the first period of this game. There seemed to a be point midway through the first-half when he realised he was significantly better than the entire Brighton team and decided to run rings around them. His ball across the box for Firmino’s first goal was inch perfect, meaning that his countryman didn’t even need to break his stride to put the ball into the back of the net. The goal he scored from the free-kick was the work of a man who was full of confidence. His second was fortuitous for sure, but by that point he’d already stamped his authority on the match and done enough to earn the Man of the Match award as far as I’m concerned. With rumours of Barcelona coming back in for him in January, is that a sign of him preparing to prove his worth to the Spanish club?

Defence Be Damned, We’re Stunning Going Forward

As I’ve already mentioned, the troubles we’re having at the back this season have been well documented. The fact that we seem to have tightened things up a little bit lately is largely going unnoticed, but that’s a conversation for another time. When it comes to our work in the final third we are up there with Manchester City in terms of ability. We have now scored twenty-two goals in our last seven matches, averaging more than three goals a game. The most satisfying thing about it is that we’ve done that against teams that have wanted to be defensive. Admittedly West Ham were on their last legs under Slaven Bilic when we played them and Brighton are a newly promoted, but if Manchester United were scoring goals as freely as well are then I think Liverpool fans would be saying that they’re looking ‘ominous’. City’s form is throwing everyone’s sense of how this season is going right out of whack. They are in unbelievable form, having dropped just two points all season with a woeful West Ham at home the next match on their agenda.

Even if United beat Arsenal in the late kick-off, they’ll be eight points clear if they put the Hammers to the sword. Teams have thrown away such leads in the past, of course, but it seems unlikely that such a free-flowing team with quality all over the squad will drop too many points in the remaining six months or so left of the season. Stranger things have happened, but all we can do is keep putting the ball in the back of the net and seeing where we are at the end of the season. The loss to Spurs was worrying at the time but it yet be the making of this Liverpool team. Despite how ‘bad’ some Liverpool fans might think things are because of how far we are away from City, but we remain unbeaten in Europe and have only lost to them and City in the Premier League. The loss to Leicester City in the League Cup is something I can live with, considering how much that competition takes it out of the team for very little reward.

Other Teams Won’t Want To Face Us Now

I mentioned in my intro the fact that Jürgen Klopp rotated his squad to the chagrin of some Liverpool supporters. The problem is that too many of our fans are more obsessed with their own narratives than with appreciating just how good the players we’ve got on our books actually are. We’ve been able to rotate reasonably heavily over the last couple of games and still looked really strong. Sadio Mané was easily our best player last season but he’s spent much this campaign as an incidental character. That bodes well for the Christmas period. Few teams will fancy going up against us over the next month. Few teams have the depth of talent that we do, meaning that they’ll likely be going into games with tired legs whilst we’re looking as fresh as possible.

The squad still has flaws, as I’ve already mentioned. Nevertheless, the strengths are there for all to see. If you were an opposition manager, would you fancy going up against us right now? Klopp will have learnt a huge amount from the way the wheels came off during the winter period last year. We might have wanted to see the players going great guns from the start of the campaign but the manager will have wanted to see his team learn how to win on half power. It’s been tough to watch at times, but hopefully the players have learnt plenty from it to mean that we’ll be able to keep doing it well into the new year. As the press obsess over how exciting Spurs are despite the fact that they’ve been fairly woeful lately, we can just keep on winning games and keeping ourselves in the mix. Whether it’s Mané, Salah, Firmino, Coutinho or even Oxlade-Chamberlain, defences will not be happy watching us smash five past Brighton today.

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