It was another cup exit for Liverpool as Brighton delivered a late blow, leaving Jurgen Klopp with only two competitions to contend with and plenty of improvement to oversee.
The AMEX was a place of nightmares only a few weeks ago and while the Reds were much improved from that outing, the result remained the same.
Harvey Elliott scored Liverpool’s only goal but a deflected shot and a late strike denied Klopp’s side passage to the fifth round of the FA Cup and the chance of a replay at Anfield.
Here, Joanna Durkan (@JoannaDurkan_), Aadam Patel (@aadamp9), who was at the AMEX, and Jamie Holme (@JamieHolme) discuss the match, Klopp’s substitutions and where the improved results can come from.
Can you take any positives from the performance?
AADAM: Yes, without blowing anyone away, this was a much-improved performance from the display at the Amex earlier this month, but we still lacked that confidence and killer instinct in the final third.
Ultimately we are done by a moment of class from Kaori Mitoma in what is a good quality cup tie. It’s a shame we won’t have those Wembley trips again this season but I guess it’d get boring if we did them every year!
JOANNA: While the result is the obvious negative as was Jurgen’s subs, we’ll get to that shortly, there were still things to like, as you say Aadam.
I thought Cody Gakpo looked more comfortable in the central role and the forward line as a whole was much improved from their outing against Chelsea, although I’m still questioning why Elliott is playing on the left!
Stefan Bajcetic continues to impress and after a yellow card after 17 minutes it would’ve been easy for Klopp to justify making him the first midfield change, but he stayed on until the 84th minute. Can’t see him being taken out of the team any time soon.
JAMIE: I thought the structure of the team was much better in the first half. I think the balance between Bajcetic, Keita and Thiago allowed us to press, they had energy and were progressive with the ball.
We looked more solid and created some decent opportunities, which hasn’t always been the case of late!
What did you make of Klopp’s substitutions?
JAMIE: The game swung away from us once we made the changes. I’ll be honest, I adore Klopp, and I always will, but he hasn’t covered himself in glory with some of his decisions this season and it was no different this time.
Bringing on 37-year-old James Milner to go up against Mitoma, who was an absolute livewire all game, was asking for trouble. Centrally, there was a noticeable drop-off when Henderson and, in particular, Fabinho came on.
We just seemed to lose control, lack energy and had zero penetration. I also didn’t quite get not having Nunez central earlier with Gakpo from the left. There were a few headscratchers considering I thought we had actually played quite well in the first half.
AADAM: For me, I’d say they were interesting. The Trent change is a big decision but that triple substitution around the hour mark helps us get control of the game.
We have more of the possession without really making it count and we’re ultimately made to pay.
Removing Bajcetic and Thiago for Fabinho and Curtis Jones confuses me, especially when we’re going for the win but by then, there are only a few minutes left. Bajcetic was arguably our best player all afternoon.
JOANNA: If you were simply looking at the names of the substitutes without having seen the match, you may not take too much issue with Klopp’s decisions – they’re experienced names, after all.
However, as you guys have both said, Liverpool lost control of the game and handed over impetus to Brighton – Mitoma must’ve been the most elated player on the pitch to see Trent come off and be replaced by 37-year-old Milner.
I, on the other hand, was bemused.
It’s not the first time Klopp has had his decisions questioned and it’ll be the same again with this match. It’s as though the state of the game was forgotten and pre-planned decisions were then followed through with when it was the last thing Liverpool needed. Frustrating, very frustrating.
Aadam, you were at the AMEX, what was the atmosphere like?
AADAM: I thought the atmosphere was good for what the occasion was – an early kick-off on the south coast for a fourth-round cup tie.
The bigger allocations for cup ties helps a lot of the younger lads get sorted and as a result, I thought we made good noise throughout. I was a bit gutted that we didn’t score in that second half towards our end, though, as it would have gone absolutely wild!
Fabinho, a nightmare cameo that encapsulated his dramatic drop-off, wasn’t it?
JAMIE: It’s tough to watch. Fabinho has been such a massive player for us. A player who has gone to the well so many times but the pace of the game just seems too quick for him of late.
I’ve always said, to play centre midfielder for this Liverpool team is one of the hardest roles in football as the demands on the body are so high.
To do what Fabinho and Henderson have done in recent years has been unbelievable but it takes its toll. I think we are now seeing just how big of a toll it’s taken on them both at the minute.
JOANNA: Agreed, it is incredibly difficult to witness. At this level, if you’re even just a split-second off the pace it shows but it feels a lot more than that for Fabinho.
He was a very, very lucky boy to stay on the pitch but Liverpool were effectively playing with 10 men anyway, he just had zero impact and Bajcetic should’ve been the one to see out the match.
Where do the improved results come from? What do you want to see next?
AADAM: I think Klopp will relish this challenge but he has got some big decisions to make.
Remember, this is a side that competed on all fronts last term so it would be foolish to ask for wholesale changes but what we need is to restore that confidence and intensity and crucially, add some much-needed extra spark to the squad.
With that, the winning habits will hopefully return. Right now, nothing looks like it’s flowing and nothing is going our way – like their deflected equaliser.
JOANNA: “We need to try and get the confidence back, but it’s easier said than done,” words from Andy Robertson after the match, one that will not have helped in the confidence department.
It’s crazy to think that a team that was two games away from a historic quadruple could be so low on confidence less than a year later, but it’s exactly what we’re seeing. Heads are dropping far too quickly and there are not enough players trying to grab the game by the scruff of the neck anymore.
This team needs a reset. There are positive signs in that we’re more compact but we need more than that if we’re going to start winning consistently again.
Oh, to have that winning feeling back!
As for what I want to see, I want Nunez to play in the central role, Gakpo on the left and the same midfield trio to start consistently, we have enough days between games now to facilitate this.
JAMIE: I too just want to see intensity and pressing. There were green shoots in the first half in terms of being more controlled and looking to threaten going forward.
I think Nunez will be key in giving us a threat in behind but, like Joanna, I’d like to see Gakpo given a run from the left with Nunez central. Salah’s form of late is a worry but he’s that good you always expect him to come good.
The lack of legs in midfield has to be addressed. I find it mad that the club aren’t looking to bring someone in this window…we must have some summer planned.