Football Features

Fortress Anfield crumbles again as Brighton expose Liverpool’s lost killer instinct in historic away win

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:37, 3 February 2021

In an incredible night of football, Brighton beat Liverpool at Anfield to inflict the champions second home loss of the season.

The match was not incredible for the entertainment value. Despite Liverpool being able to field the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Thiago Alcanatara and Trent-Alexander Arnold; and even with Brighton’s wonderful attacking style of play, the game itself was a sluggish and stilted affair where neither side was at their best.

The match was incredible because Brighton rocked up to Anfield, facing a Liverpool side that had won two games in a row and looked so impressive in doing so, and then just shut them down.

Like, Liverpool were awful.

They had 11 shots, which may not sound all that bad but only one of those hit the target. One shot on target. At Anfield! Brighton meanwhile tested Kelleher four times from their 13 efforts at goal.

Brighton weren’t at their scintillating best but were still the better side and should have won by more than a single goal in all honesty. Their goal was a scrappy finish from Steven Alzate but it was a beautiful strike in the Seagull’s eyes.

Liverpool, the defending Premier League champions, look an absolutely spent force. The loss today makes it two home defeats in 10 days, two straight defeats at Fortress Anfield. A place where they didn’t lose for what seemed like an eternity.

More than two straight defeats, this makes it three straight home games for Liverpool without even scoring a goal. The last time Liverpool scored at Anfield it was 27th December and they were drawing 1-1 with West Brom. The last time they won at home was over a month ago.

So what happened? Was it a tactical error from Jurgen Klopp? Has the introduction of Thiago Alcantara caused problems in the way the Reds attack? Perhaps, but honestly that’s not a major issue. The talent in the Liverpool squad was, no disrespect, more than enough to run roughshod over Brighton, regardless of tactical cohesion.

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No, the reason Liverpool are the first defending champions for 19 years to go three home games without scoring is simple: they’ve lost their killer instinct. That razor sharp edge that they played on from the day Virgil van Dijk debuted against Everton to the day football went on a pandemic-enforced hiatus in Spring 2020.

Just over two years of relentless foot down on the accelerator football. All pressing, all running, all powerhouse mental strength. The kind of self-belief that powers cults, but obviously without the evil connotations.

Liverpool’s mental strength was such that they beat Barcelona 4-0 at Anfield without their two best attacking players. It’s such that they won all but one of their opening 21 games in 2019/20 to set a record for Europe’s top five leagues. It’s such that they racked up 196 points across two seasons, winning a Champions League and a Premier League along the way.

But the thing is you can only live on the razor’s edge for so long, you can only run a small-ish squad to their limits for a certain amount of time before things just collapse. And it appears that Liverpool have finally collapsed.

Klopp said they didn’t look “mentally fresh,” after the match, but the thing is they’ve looked like this for most of the season. In particular most of the last month of football. Mentally fresh is an understatement, they look spent.

That mental strength, that killer instinct that allowed the Reds to win games by sheer force of will as much as any tactical or technical advantage, appears to have deserted them. Not only has it deserted them but they used up so much of their power in their historic run, that they all appear drained to various degrees.

Many of their players this season (especially in defence) have been stricken by injuries as their bodies give out on them after two years of pushing themselves to the absolute limits of what human beings can achieve in sport. Yes, injuries are partly to blame for tonight’s defeat as they had to contend with a whole host of absences but staying fit and healthy is an attribute just the same as being able to pass the ball 35 yards is; and Liverpool’s players have lost that ability.

The Reds will rebound, the squad has too much talent for it not to, but all in all this is reminiscent of Jurgen Klopp’s final year at Borussia Dortmund where the team just finally collapsed after years of running on the razor’s edge. That same thing appears to have happened to Jurgen Klopp again. What’s the solution? Is there a solution? It’s hard to say, but up next they play Manchester City, so Klopp better get his thinking cap on unless Liverpool want to sink further into the mire.