Liverpool showed familiar flaws as they let their lead slip to draw 2-2 with Brighton on Saturday, with Jurgen Klopp‘s shaky midfield a cause for concern among fans.
The Reds should have cruised to another comfortable win as they took a two-goal lead early on at Anfield, but standards dropped and Brighton fought back.
Graham Potter deserves immense credit for steeling his players to gain control, with the Seagulls among the Premier League‘s most impressive outfits and more than deserving of a point.
But ahead of another important week as Liverpool prepare to take on Atletico Madrid and West Ham, Klopp’s inquest at Kirkby will be a vital one.
So where did the problems arise and what can be done to solve them?
To get an insight, This Is Anfield’s Jack Lusby (@LusbyJack) spoke to Keifer MacDonald (@KeiferMacd) and Sachin Nakrani (@SachinNakrani), who were both at Anfield.
KEIFER: Probably the silver lining of the day was Alisson and his excellent display between the sticks, without him it would have surely been Brighton heading back down south with all three points.
And after an understandable dip in his form last year due to off-field issues, the Brazilian has been immense in recent weeks.
Possibly classed as clutching at straws but the performance from the moment the ‘third’ goal was disallowed was far below par.
SACHIN: Liverpool didn’t lose.
I’m aware that’s pretty weak beer as far as positives go, but as I write this not long after leaving Anfield it genuinely feels like something to be grateful for.
We were well and truly given the runaround by Brighton in the second half and amid the howls of panic and frustration that spread across the Kop at 2-2, I cannot have been the only one who felt certain the visitors would get a third.
They did put the ball in the back of the net for a third time but, thankfully, it was ruled out for offside.
Not losing was a relief, then, and also stretched Liverpool’s unbeaten run to 24 games, which is as pleasing as it is something to be proud of.
… on a happier note: Adam Lallana cheered by the home fans as he walked around the pitch after final whistle. All that was missing from this lovely moment was Lallana getting hold of a spare ball, turning with it, turning with it again, then playing a square pass to Emre Can. pic.twitter.com/h5W5bcOQ5s
— Sachin Nakrani (@SachinNakrani) October 30, 2021
That aside, I thought our goals were well crafted, and it was nice to see Adam Lallana again.
I especially enjoyed clapping him off the pitch, first when he was subbed and then when he walked around the pitch after the final whistle.
JACK: Through it all, how good was Sadio Mane?
He was a bully on the left flank, exploiting an unexpected setup from Brighton that saw them shift from a five-man defence to a more traditional back four, with Joel Veltman at right-back.
His movement was exceptional, his touch sublime and he was Liverpool’s best player both creatively and defensively; he deserved more than the goal and the point he came away with.
KEIFER: It really wasn’t a great afternoon and Klopp’s animations on the sideline demonstrated that.
Keita looked to be one of the Reds’ best performers during his early cameo as he won the ball up the pitch high and threaded the front line with great service.
However, into his fourth season at Anfield it seems we are none the clearer on whether we will ever see the best of Keita in Liverpool colours, due to his constant battles with fitness.
Derailed by injuries far too often, it appeared that Keita’s importance was further highlighted after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain endured a very difficult afternoon.
Although it does feel harsh to point fingers at a certain section of the team, Brighton enjoyed far too much joy all game as they had on-running men to overload the Reds’ midfield which resulted in problems for both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.
In the absence of Fabinho, Liverpool lacked shape, nous and discipline as Brighton continuously cut through a lethargic trio of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones and Jordan Henderson.
Despite plenty of grunts and moans at full-time, on another day it could have been far worse and perhaps the Reds were lucky to even leave the field with a share of the spoils.
And after a recent run of excellent form, with Chelsea extending their lead at the top of the Premier League, there have been a few questions over the number of goals the Reds are conceding at the moment.
Having surrendered leads to Chelsea, Man City, Brentford, Atletico Madrid and now Brighton so far this season, it is a bad habit that Klopp’s men need to snap out of and fast.
It seems long ago that Liverpool were the kings of grinding out gritty fixtures during their title-winning campaign.
If the Reds do have ambitions of claiming a 20th title in May, it’s certainly an element of their game that they need to fix up on and pretty promptly.
SACHIN: Where to start? The obvious place, I guess – Liverpool’s midfield.
It severely lacked aggression and structure, meaning it only took the slightest push at the door for Brighton to break through and find themselves running straight at our defence.
And a team as technically able, well-coached and brave in possession as Potter’s were always going to take advantage of that.
The problem is obvious – a lack of key personnel, namely Fabinho and Thiago. An injection of their defensive nous and control cannot come quick enough.
As Keifer points out, Liverpool have generally been too open this season, conceding at least twice on five occasions already.
There have been various factors for that – with complacency undeniably among them against Brighton – and that’s something Klopp simply must address if we’re to stand any chance of winning the title and/or Champions League.
JACK: Keifer and Sachin have both covered the key points in the defeat: a brittle midfield and a worrying trend of sacrificing leads.
So perhaps I’ll focus on a minor gripe I had with Virgil van Dijk, who rarely comes in for criticism due to his incredible consistency.
In his post-match press conference, Klopp was asked about an exchange he had with the centre-back, and suggested he had let his standards slip momentarily when it came to organising the back line.
I thought that was evident throughout the second half, in truth, with Van Dijk undoubtedly one of those whose body language the manager was “not overly happy” with.
And does Oxlade-Chamberlain still fit in Klopp’s system?
KEIFER: It’s another under-performing cameo in the decline of Oxlade-Chamberlain as he was pulled from pillar to post by the Seagulls’ midfield.
Henderson appeared to give Ox an earful after the second goal, which stemmed from Potter’s side bypassing the midfield far too easily.
Given the options Klopp has at his disposal when everyone is fit and firing it seems hard to see where the former Arsenal man fits in long-term.
It was only two weeks ago that he produced an energetic appearance off the bench as Liverpool toppled Atletico, with many citing his cameo as the first step to regaining his form of 2019.
However, his inconsistency makes him a difficult option for Klopp to select, despite his obvious talent going forward.
Not to mention when Liverpool are without a natural defensive midfielder, there needs to be greater cohesion between the selected three that just was not present against Brighton.
SACHIN: A quick glance at Jack’s Twitter feed makes it clear he thought ‘the Ox’ had a stinker against Brighton.
Personally, I thought he was OK, having also performed well against Preston in midweek.
But, in general, there’s no denying he’s way off being the player he was prior to the injury against Roma. Not that dynamic, not that athletic and, sadly, not that good anymore.
Klopp has better options for every job he needs carrying out in midfield and, all in all, it feels like a move away next summer would be best for player and club.
JACK: I’d say a “stinker” is a bit harsh, but it was another performance that left a lot to be desired from Oxlade-Chamberlain.
He’s a new dad, so the sleepless nights and a change in routine will not be helping him, but he still looks short of sharpness despite a full pre-season.
There are still flashes of that brilliance, though, and I haven’t quite lost hope that he can recapture the form that made him so valuable early on.
But after 160 minutes over the past week, it will be a big ask for a player whose fitness is an ongoing issue – as Sachin says, it’s make or break before he enters the final year of his deal next summer.