LIVERPOOL 2-1 BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION
- Goals: Virgil van Dijk (£6.4m) x2 | Lewis Dunk (£4.6m)
- Assists: Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.2m) x2 | Leandro Trossard (£5.8m)
- Red cards: Alisson (£6.0m)
- Bonus: van Dijk x3, Alexander-Arnold x2, Dunk x1
Two early headers from Virgil van Dijk (£6.4m) were all Liverpool needed to extend their lead atop the Premier League to 11 points, both set up by Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.2m) crosses from dead-ball situations.
However, the Anfield crowd had to drag their team over the line thanks to a red card for goalkeeper Alisson (£6.0m) that led to Lewis Dunk’s (£4.6m) consolation goal for Brighton and Hove Albion.
For all the attacking flair and assist potential of full-backs Alexander Arnold and Andrew Robertson (£7.0m), it’s van Dijk who scores most of all three. Last season his four goals comfortably exceeded their combined one, whilst today’s brace adds to his opening-day strike against Norwich.
The 6ft 4in centre-back found himself in enough space to head home a fairly central Alexander-Arnold free-kick after 18 minutes, rising above Adam Webster (£4.4m) to loop over Matthew Ryan (£4.7m). Then, six minutes later, the same combination made it 2-0 from a corner.
In the first half, Jurgen Klopp’s side were easy on the eye, playing with the verve and confidence of a team that knew they were about to go 11 points clear of Man City, after the champions could only draw 2-2 at Newcastle at lunchtime.
The Liverpool boss said of his side’s display:
We would have loved if we would have finished one more, two more, more often and it looks much more comfortable, but that’s our situation. I don’t want to change it, it’s like it is. There will be days when we will score from situations like that and will probably not use our set-pieces, that’s how it is. But you have to score goals and we did that often enough to win the game and that’s good.
Mohamed Salah (£12.2m) and Sadio Mane (£12.2m) had a fruitless afternoon but it wasn’t for a lack of trying in the latter’s case.
Ryan’s fine save from a Roberto Firmino (£9.4m) shot in the 16th minute denied the Senegalese winger an assist, while the in-form premium midfielder could have been on the scoresheet himself soon after when being thwarted by the busy Australian.
Mane also found himself in space around the penalty spot on the hour-mark but couldn’t get good contact and the chance went begging.
Salah returned to the line-up after his Gameweek 13 benching but made very little impact apart from hitting the side-netting in the 12th minute. He was replaced by Adam Lallana (£5.8m) in the 69th minute, although the Egyptian preserved a clean sheet point to get the last laugh over Mane owners.
While Salah’s recent struggles with an ankle injury are off-putting, he and Mane remain enticing options for the next three Gameweeks and – if it wasn’t for the Club World Cup postponing their Gameweek 18 fixture – there would even be an argument for owning both against Everton (h), Bournemouth (a) and Watford (h).
The absence of Fabinho (£5.5m), meanwhile, saw Jordan Henderson (£5.4m) resume the ‘number six’ role that he had occupied before his recent reinvention as a right-sided central midfielder.
We had to replace Fabinho today which is a tough one because it’s like we were really used to these things without really thinking about it. Hendo played a sensational game in that position together with Gini and Ox. It was a really good performance but we had to work really hard. And what I liked most, that the boys were ready to do that.
Liverpool looked set to finally keep their first clean sheet in seven games and only their third of the season. The second half had been a dull affair, with the Reds conserving their energy knowing that they have ten games to come in a gruelling December.
Whilst the streak of 18 home games where either Salah, Mane or Firmino had scored was about to end, at least they were cruising to a relaxing victory.
Then goalkeeper Alisson was sent off for a deliberate handball outside of his area and everything quickly changed. A long Brighton ball over the home defence set free Leandro Trossard (£5.8m), who poked the ball up onto the advancing stopper’s hands for a straight red card.
On came Adrian (£4.2m) for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (£6.2m) and the reserve Liverpool custodian was instantly picking the ball out of the net after Dunk – once getting the nod to take the kick early – casually passed the resulting free-kick into the corner.
Klopp said of Alisson’s dismissal:
Of course, life became more complicated with the red card and the change we had to make. We had to bring on a frozen goalkeeper pretty much! Everybody sitting here is probably not really warm yet, but imagine you go there in shorts, a really thin shirt and some gloves which are not made for keeping you warm.
Some people let the free-kick happen like that and then you look a little bit silly in that moment, but that’s what you have to accept.
We kept on fighting and Adrian especially helped us a lot with two really, really good saves and crosses he caught and stuff like this.
Suddenly things got nervy for the home side when former Huddersfield midfielder Aaron Mooy (£4.8m) forced Adrian into a low stop. Two minutes later, the substitute spilled a comfortable save right at the feet of substitute Neal Maupay (£5.9m). The Reds held on to make it 13 wins from 14 league matches but those looking for reassurance that Klopp’s troops are tightening up at the back wouldn’t have been given any indication of that on Saturday.
Alisson will be suspended for Wednesday’s Merseyside derby with Everton, although Liverpool’s only two clean sheets of the season did come under his deputy’s watch.
Truth be told, there were still some hairy moments for Liverpool’s defence even before the red card. Alisson made a good save from Davy Propper (£4.9m) in the first half, shortly followed by a Dunk sitter where the centre-back scuffed a shot wide with his knee.
Dunk then narrowly headed wide a Pascal Gross (£6.4m) corner in the 54th minute, before a Martin Montoya (£4.5m) cross was superbly controlled and shot by Aaron Connolly (£4.7m) eight minutes later.
The goalscorer made some crucial contributions at the other end, firstly blocking an Oxlade-Chamberlain effort after a superb run and pull-back from Robertson. Just before the Alisson incident, Dunk got in the way of a shot that followed Alexander-Arnold’s burst into the box.
Graham Potter said of the Seagulls’ efforts:
We put a lot into the game and played with a lot of courage. We weren’t quite as aggressive as we needed to be in the first 20 minutes, so that’s a learning point for us, but we have a really good account of ourselves against a top team.
Potter again went with a four-man backline this weekend and opted for 19-year-old Connolly over Maupay up front, despite the latter’s 19 goal attempts only being bettered by Raul Jimenez (£7.6m) over the last six Gameweeks. As promising as those numbers sound ahead of a run of fixtures against Wolves (h), Crystal Palace (a) and Sheffield United (h), only one of those 19 shots resulted in a goal.
Liverpool XI (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Adrian 78’); Salah (Lallana 69’), Firmino (Origi 76’), Mane.
Brighton and Hove Albion XI (4-5-1): Ryan; Montoya (Alzate 69’), Webster, Dunk, Burn; Gross, Bissouma (Trossard 69’), Stephens, Propper, Mooy; Connolly (Maupay 76’).
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