Liverpool once again showcased confidence in their own abilities as a solitary Mohamed Salah goal secured a 1-0 victory at Brighton on Saturday.
Brighton 0-1 Liverpool
Premier League, Amex
January 12, 2019
Goal: Salah pen 50′
Klopp’s Latest Risk Pays Off
In his pre-match press conference, Klopp described the use of Dejan Lovren against Wolves as a “proper risk,” but it was arguably one he couldn’t avoid after Jordan Henderson‘s injury in the buildup.
At the Amex, however, he was presented with another fitness issue to address as Trent Alexander-Arnold struggled after standing awkwardly on the ball, and again opted to take a risk and keep him in the starting lineup.
It looked to have been a poor decision in the opening stages, as the limping right-back remained in talks with a member of Klopp’s medical staff and James Milner underwent an extended warmup on the opposite touchline.
Fortunately, Alexander-Arnold lasted the full 90 minutes unscathed, with this gamble ultimately paying off as Klopp was able to use Milner, Naby Keita and Divock Origi as second-half substitutes.
But it does serve to highlight the big call made in allowing Nathaniel Clyne to leave on loan, and the manager’s faith in Rafa Camacho, who was named in the matchday squad for the fourth time this season.
Fab Passes Test at the Back
Despite the return of Joel Matip to the matchday squad, Klopp avoided another fitness gamble as he deployed Fabinho alongside Virgil van Dijk at centre-back, providing the Brazilian with some straightforward advice before the game.
“If you are a holding six or a centre-half, with the ball it’s easier, without the ball it’s different because you don’t have a line behind you,” he explained.
“But that’s the most important things: use the one and be prepared for the other and everything will be fine.”
The latter became apparent in early battles up against Glenn Murray, and with Alexander-Arnold struggling Jurgen Locadia enjoyed plenty of space to drive into behind the back line.
But as the half wore on and Liverpool’s approach changed, Fabinho was much more comfortable in his new role, making a series of timely clearances and vital blocks—including one to deny a certain goal—while using the ball intelligently as expected.
It’s unlikely he’ll be retained for the visit of Crystal Palace next weekend, and he’s much better used in midfield, but the No. 3 is certainly a serviceable fifth choice.
Dunk, Duffy and a Shifting Style
Another key topic for the manager ahead of the game was the results Chris Hughton is getting out of his Brighton side while working on a relative shoestring.
Klopp highlighted the duo of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy as “an outstanding centre-half pair,” and despite this Liverpool played into their hands in the first half.
Salah, Sadio Mane and Xherdan Shaqiri made frequent diagonal runs behind the defence while the likes of Fabinho, Van Dijk and Henderson attempted long balls over the top—more often than not finding the head of a Brighton defender.
After the break, however, this approach changed, with Salah given more freedom to drop deep, drift wide and drive at the Seagulls’ defence, and this proved decisive as he won and converted the penalty on 50 minutes.
It was a mid-game shift similar to the 3-0 win at Watford in November, hinting that this could perhaps have been by design.
Patience is a Virtue
As with that victory at Vicarage Road, Liverpool showcased their 2018/19 vintage at the Amex as they remained patient and ultimately secured a result that put them, temporarily at least, seven points clear at the top.
Unlike the Reds of previous seasons, this is an increasingly composed, confident outfit when in these situations, and the credit goes to Klopp and his players for having the patience to grind out win after win.
Of course, Liverpool won 5-1 at Brighton by opting for a more gung-ho approach last season, but now their outlook is more measured and controlled.
As expectations rise, this is a message that should perhaps extend to supporters calling for half-time changes, as Klopp seemingly has a better sense of the ‘big picture’ now.
One Down, Four to Go
After their relentless festive run culminated in a disappointing loss at Man City, and with the buffer of a non-starter at Wolves, Liverpool headed into a stretch of five more comfortable league games on paper.
Three points at Brighton is the perfect start, putting pressure on City ahead of their clash with Nuno Espirito Santo’s giant-killers on Monday night, as dropped points in East Sussex could have seen their lead reduced even further.
Next up is the visit of Crystal Palace, who lost 2-1 to Watford on Saturday, before another home clash against Leicester, who themselves suffered defeat at the hands of Southampton on the same afternoon.
Then it’s West Ham away and Bournemouth at Anfield, and victories over all four of the middling sides is imperative as Liverpool look to keep up momentum at the top.