Liverpool returned to Premier League action against Brighton on Saturday and were frustrated once more by VAR calls in an eventual 1-1 draw.
Brighton 1-1 Liverpool
Premier League, Amex Stadium
28 November 2020
Goals: Gross pen 90+2′; Jota 59′.
Defensive merry-go-round costing chances
It’s not a surprise, but it certainly was a problem.
After 16 games, the Reds have had 11 different pairings at centre-back, plus there have been weekly changes at full-back, the midfield protection has had a rotating cast and we even had a goalkeeper injury earlier in the campaign.
With so little consistency and cohesion, it’s very difficult to keep a regular line, play the usual high offside approach, stay covered against runners in behind and generally be as solid as usual.
Brighton got in behind over and over in the first half with simple, direct balls over the top to a well-timed run.
The best way to avoid that was to keep hold of the ball far better, far higher up the pitch, and that’s certainly the approach Klopp demanded for the second half.
Hendo back in action
Half the game gone and we called on the skipper.
After only a session or two with the team in training this week he clearly wasn’t quite ready for the full 90, but bringing back a very familiar face was crucial to regaining control of this game.
With Jordan Henderson on the pitch, Gini Wijnaldum pushed on a little more – it was interesting to see that switch after the No. 5 had filled in as the six every game recently – and a more dominant midfield ensued.
The Amex was, of course, where Hendo got injured last season, putting the trophy lift dance at risk, and he’s had a number of knocks and strains since then.
Hopefully this return to action on the same ground is the start of a much longer, much less-interrupted spell of games for him.
Taki, Neco, Nat
Rather than assess their performances here, perhaps it’s more value to suggest what Klopp needs to see from each to get them into the side more regularly – on the evidence of this 90 minutes, there’s a bit of a list.
Taki was out of his usual role, but we still could have expected to see better use of the ball from him, being quicker on the turn and making little runs off the forward players.
He won’t ever be expected to be a creative, playmaking schemer, but the speed of transition is what makes him dangerous and able to open teams.
As for Williams, we’ve seen scant evidence of his aggressive final-third game which made him a stand-out in the cups last season, dangerous deliveries and tackling high upfield to support the attack.
Added to that, defensive mistakes have been seen too often, losing possession and of course the poor challenge here for the penalty. Consistency is everything to get into this team and he is lacking that at present, as is frequent for youngsters trying to step up.
Phillips is in a different situation and he probably is doing as much as he can right now.
This is an unexpected window of a few months for him and it’s hard to argue that he’s not making the most of it.
Jota’s golden touch
Salah buried his one finish before VAR did its usual trick of frustrating Reds everywhere, so it was left to Diogo Jota to once more find a route to goal.
The Portuguese forward had, in all honesty, a shocker of a first half – losing possession easily, misplacing passes, not finding Salah for a clear shot with a straight-forward ball across the area.
But he made up for all that with a brilliant solo run and finish, opening up Brighton’s entire defence with some close control and the only notable effort on target in the whole match – the other being Minamino’s tame outside-of-the-boot strike.
This was far from Jota’s, or Liverpool’s, best attacking display – but he still found a way to keep up that great strike rate, which is both pleasing to see and enormously important.
Decisions for midweek
Let’s ignore VAR for today – the penalties can’t be argued with, Mane was offside and Mo… well, there’s a debate on the defender’s “line” perhaps, but it isn’t going to change a thing.
The bigger questions lie over the midweek challenge against Ajax and our need to find a win: who plays right-back? Which midfield combination will provide a supply line? Which of the forwards can come out or be the biggest threat? Just how many kids are going to be in that squad?
James Milner is a massive loss, because of his versatility as well as his influence, but it’s not a shock given his recent game load.
Klopp has more magic to work.