In a surprising afternoon of football, Liverpool outlasted a Brighton attack, winning 2-1 at Anfield.
The Reds scored from set-pieces but the Seagulls were sharper in open play. Still, the result and performance had three distinct elements that each had three distinct qualities. The good, the bad, and the ugly. So what was what?
The Good: Liverpool’s grinding mode
There’s a term in video games called “grinding” which essentially means doing menial low intensity tasks over and over in order to get a valuable reward. It takes time but it works. In football “grinding out a win” involves fighting and scrapping to pick up a victory even without playing superbly well. In 2019/20, Liverpool have combined the two.
Liverpool regularly get outplayed by teams on a lesser level than them. Now sure when Manchester City dominated them in their recent meeting, that was more about quality – but when Brighton do it? Norwich? Sheffield United? Yes there are flaws in the Liverpool side but it happens far too often for it to be a coincidence.
If they’re holding a lead in the Premier League, Jurgen Klopp’s men have no shame about entering into grinding mode in order to secure the win. They drop deep, they play on the break with their fast forwards and they look to pick-up set-pieces in the knowledge that they will always carry a threat with them.
That’s usually how small teams play, and big teams are rarely secure in themselves enough to do it against small sides. That is often why defensive powerhouses like Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid can struggle to sustain title challenges. These small sides force them to dominate the ball and they don’t know how to play like that.
Liverpool, meanwhile, can grind it out against anyone. As Brighton found out today. Graham Potter’s men dominated the game and the ball but it was the Reds, with two Virgil van Dijk headers from Trent Alexander-Arnold set-pieces that picked up the three points. The Reds knew that with Van Dijk, comfortably the best centre-back in the world right now, marshaling things at the back they would be able to hold the Seagulls at bay no matter what happened.
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The Bad: Still no clean sheets at Anfield
Van Dijk was an absolutely titan at Anfield. He scored twice and made a team-high five clearances and was so dominant, guiding Liverpool through a rough match against an impressive opponent. Brighton played with plenty of verve and pluck, but Van Dijk was so good that they struggled to score from open play and indirect free-kicks.
But it wasn’t enough as from a direct free-kick, Lewis Dunk caught them napping to pull it back for Brighton. The goal was a supreme bit of instinctive play and that the Reds didn’t see it coming, given it’s how they beat Barcelona in the Spring, was perplexing. However it does fit the pattern: the Reds have not managed to post a single clean sheet at Anfield this season.
In fact they’ve only kept three clean sheets all season, and one of them was in the Carabao Cup against MK Dons so doesn’t really count. All of those were away, however, and Liverpool’s loyal home fans have yet to see a team that is in effect built around their defence shut out the opponents this season. It’s a bizarre stat and you wonder how long they can keep getting away with it.
The Ugly: Alisson’s red
Brighton’s goal came from a direct free-kick that was given because after a superb ball had sent Leandro Trossand running in behind Dejan Lovren. Alisson saw the danger and reacted quickly to come off his line, except Trossard was thinking quickly too and volleyed a chipped shot over Alisson’s head. The Brazilian’s reaction was to stick his arm out to stop the ball, but what Alisson maybe didn’t realise was that he was outside the box when it happened.
It was a massive blunder, and one uncharacteristic of the goalkeeper whose excellent form last season has seen him pick up every major goalkeeping award. Sure enough he’s still making his way back from a long injury layoff, but now with a suspension looming that rust looks set to continue for a few weeks more; and given how packed Liverpool’s December is that few weeks could end up covering four or five games. The red was ugly, the consequences could be so much worse.