The good, the bad & the bottom-six issue – Debating Liverpool 0-1 Brighton

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Liverpool were lifeless in their 1-0 defeat at home to Brighton on Wednesday, with few positives on show and yet more woes against a struggling side.

Jurgen Klopp‘s champions were looking to kick on after back-to-back wins away to Tottenham and West Ham, but they endured a miserable night at Anfield.

The Reds looked devoid of creativity throughout the contest and Steven Alzate’s solitary second half goal separated the two sides.

Brighton were more than worthy of their win, as Liverpool’s hopes of retaining the Premier League title took an almighty hit.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) is joined by John O’Sullivan (@NotoriousJOS) and Red (@TaintlessRed) to discuss an awful result and dissect why Liverpool have been so poor against bottom-six teams this season.

 

The good…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 3, 2021: Liverpool's goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOHN: I’m hard-pressed to find good, outside of Caoimhin Kelleher. The Irishman is a clear upgrade on Adrian and his sweeping and distribution is almost Alisson-esque.

Still, I find it hard to be too critical of the players. The worst injury crisis in recent memory has them running on fumes.

RED: There was very little to like about Liverpool’s performance, but as John says, Kelleher had another good outing between the sticks.

Calm and confident distribution of the ball with feet and hands, made three good saves, which was three times as many as the Brighton goalkeeper had to.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 3, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Jurgen Klopp confirmed Alisson’s absence was down to illness, not injury or COVID-related, so with Man City up next that is at least a positive.

The only other good outcome from the match was no new injuries – thank heaven for small mercies, eh?

HENRY: Just when it looked like the Reds has turned a corner, they throw in that performance.

I agree with John and Red that Kelleher was the standout player, but that isn’t a good look for the rest, considering he only made one good save, in my opinion.

There were genuinely no other positives for me, which is damning.

 

The bad…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 3, 2021: Brighton & Hove Albion's Steven Alzate celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOHN: Our almost mythical Anfield run coming to an end is the main negative for me.

Psychologically, the Reds had a huge advantage with their home record and now they’ve lost consecutive games there to low-ranked teams. The fans can’t come back soon enough.

In terms of everything else, we’ve been there and said it so much this season, so I won’t go over it again. I’ll leave it to Red and Henry…

RED: Cheers for that, John!

Liverpool had 705 passes but only one shot on target, which sums up an awful performance.

The biggest issue was what looked like fatigue, and the team lacked energy and tempo throughout the match. There was a short improvement straight after half-time, but that dissipated and the substitutions, made too late after we had already gone behind, did not particularly change things.

When even the irrepressible Andy Robertson – one of our best players this season – looks jaded, you’re in trouble.

The long injury list that has persisted throughout this condensed season has led to players playing without enough recovery time and rest.

When a player does come back from injury they are straight back into playing every match, as Liverpool simply do not have other options.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 3, 2021: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara (L) and Brighton & Hove Albion's Pascal Gross during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Tactically, Xherdan Shaqiri was uncomfortable playing wide left, while Divock Origi hasn’t performed well when picked there to cover for the injured Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota.

The energetic Takumi Minamino might’ve been a better option, but he has been loaned out.

One issue that can be addressed was the lack of off-the-ball movement and particularly forward runs. Thiago, Shaqiri, Roberto Firmino and others were always coming to the ball, and other than Mohamed Salah, nobody was making sharp forward movements into channels or running effectively from midfield.

James Milner tried at times, but his 35-year-old legs starting his fourth game in a row carried him too slowly.

This issue should hopefully improve when Mane returns and the new centre-backs allow Jordan Henderson or Fabinho, or both, back into midfield.

Klopp, Origi, Oxlade, subs (Phil Noble/PA Wire/PA Images)

HENRY: Is anyone else just a bit tired of this season now? It’s not the football we know and love, whether it be no fans, VAR, dreadful referees or a suffering Liverpool side.

Everything feels pretty hollow at the moment and I think the players look a tired bunch who also aren’t enjoying this pale imitation of football.

After two years of near-perfection, it was always going to be hard to replicate it third time around – when you throw in all the injuries, lack of supporters, poor decisions going against them and no luck at all, there’s a feeling that they have been ground down.

In terms of bad individual performances on Wednesday, there were too many to mention.

As Red says, Robertson has fallen off a cliff recently – understandably so, considering he has been overplayed out of necessity – the midfield looked lifeless and Firmino was hopeless leading the line.

Shaqiri showed precisely why he shouldn’t be starting games regularly, while Origi drove me mad off the bench. He HAS to go this summer.

Having said that, the pass he played into touch was so comically bad that I nearly mentioned it in the ‘good’ section above!

 

And the bottom-six issue…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 3, 2021: Brighton & Hove Albion's Steven Alzate celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOHN: Largely, I think Liverpool — lacking the fans to energise them and the options to rotate — have lacked tempo and cutting edge against bottom-six teams.

Too often, it’s been an exhibition of slow, non-threatening possession.

Another issue is the lack of height from offensive set-pieces. That’s a massive area of the game where Liverpool, through no fault of their own, have no threat.

No Fabinho, Joel Matip or Virgil van Dijk – any team would suffer.

Teams parking the bus against Liverpool is nothing new, it’s happened for nigh-on five years. It’s alarmist and hugely exaggerated to say “Klopp has been worked out”.

The truth is the German has had to use the same, small group of players, typified by Milner playing three games in a week at 35, and this has totally drained the energy of the squad.

The lack of incision is due to tired minds and tired bodies.

RED: For two seasons, Liverpool have had consistent wins against bottom-six teams. Even when results have been close – plenty of wins by single goal margins – there has been control in the games.

A stable defence allowed them to grow into matches with more attacking waves late on, knowing our centre-backs and tigerish midfield could still defend counter-attacks or set pieces.

Earlier on in Klopp’s reign, however, we did struggle with organised deeper defences. There was not one solution but numerous.

Van Dijk not only aided our defending, but his contribution in attacking set pieces and passing from deep was a new way to make the breakthrough.

Fabinho not only added bite and aggression in midfield, but he allowed others in midfield to make more forward runs and he had the passing ability to build attacks.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 3, 2021: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Meanwhile, our full-backs could attack with freedom knowing the defence was in safe hands behind them.

Typically, breaking down compact defences requires, among other things: good use of width, dribbling, fast combination football around the 18-yard box, forward runs from midfield and set-piece proficiency.

All of these aspects were lacking against Brighton – most of these were lacking in other games too, against the likes of West Brom and Newcastle.

None of these aspects will be sufficient if you do not play with the energy, tempo and forward intent we are capable of, though.

The team has let games against bottom-six teams drift for too long and have a tendency to only try to wake up when we go behind or opponents equalise.

Returning players will help, but regardless, we need to start games fast and play like Liverpool. Remember as Klopp and Pep Lijnders have both said, “our identity is intensity!”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 3, 2021: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson (L) and Brighton & Hove Albion's Leandro Trossard during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

HENRY: The lads have covered all bases really, I think it’s fairly clear what the issue is.

John is spot on about teams not changing their tactics this season – they are simply playing a Liverpool team with two full-backs running on empty, their three best centre-backs out injured for many months, their two leading midfielders playing out of position and Jota also missing for a long spell.

Of course, Liverpool shouldn’t be completely excused for some woeful displays against weak teams, but there’s so much working against them.

With players fit and firing and Klopp able to rotate, like last season, they would have beaten all of West Brom, Newcastle, Burnley and Brighton. I have no doubt about that.

Liverpool will be back next season – they may even go on a Champions League run this season, for all we know – and there shouldn’t be an overreaction to one of the most unlucky seasons in the club’s history.

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