After their big December victory against the cold realities in January, the way to May opens up ahead of Liverpool with their first victory of the New Year on an afternoon when it was so much closer than Jürgen Klop’s title should have been to find.
The home team never made an attempt to hit the whole match – whether it was a shot, a header, a scraper or a missed shot – although the ball came into the Liverpool area three minutes after an injury, Klopp could claim one Disaster for his team. Trent Alexander-Arnold gave half a release. Eventually the ball was torn away as this game crept in one way or another to its end.
You’ll say that this is the kind of non-event that every supposed champion has to win, and maybe that’s all that matters when Liverpool’s manager looks at the table on Sunday morning. The defeats to Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Newcastle and Arsenal had dropped far behind in the first half last month before Manchester City’s unbeaten run ended on 3 January.
They finally got there through Mohamed Salah’s punishment after the Egyptian had first been pulled by Pascal Gross’s shoulder and then his legs pushed away. In a rigorous Brighton display, this was the main flaw, and they paid dearly for it, while in the second half they tried to switch from containment to attack without much luck. It was not just that they had only 29 percent of the property, it was also that they barely put a finger on Liverpool.
Afterwards, Klopp enthusiastically talked about the maturity of his players to watch the game, how they had organized themselves after Salah’s punishment, and made sure that there were no mistakes. “Making mistakes is impossible in football,” said Klopp. “But you can do it without making a big mistake, and that’s what we did. We won and I am absolutely happy about that. “
These losses against City and then with a heavily modified team against Wolves in the FA Cup are behind this Liverpool team by a margin of up to seven points at the top of the table. Wolves’ visit to the city takes place on Monday.
The expectation is that Pep Guardiola’s team will close the gap at four points before Crystal Palace visits Anfield next weekend. There is no room for error, and on days like this, against the solid, well-organized Brighton team that Klopp praised afterwards, it’s the concentration he seeks from his players.
“We are not the Harlem globetrotters,” he later said. “And we have to deliver results, and that’s difficult enough. We have to perform and the performance was good. It was not the best performance of the season, but from the point of view of maturity it was excellent. On a good day everyone can win games, on an average day some games can win, and on a bad day only a few can win. “
He played Fabinho in central defense ahead of Joel Matip, who remained on the bench, arguing that he felt better with a matched midfielder who would smoothly pass his ball. For Alexander-Arnold, there was a fear of injury in the warm-up when he seemed to roll his ankle and Klopp later said he was worried he might recognize a limp in his back-ground. The 20-year-old had it strapped and continue.
There was general dismay for the home crowd about what they believed was a series of tight decisions by referee Kevin Friend, and that perspective was reflected in Chris Hughton’s irritation. The Brighton manager later politely confirmed that he had the impression that the border visits had gone the way of the away team.
It was a reckless challenge from Gross’s penalty just four minutes after halftime when he grabbed Salah and then fired from the game. “I feel for Pascal because Mohamed Salah is probably the most dangerous player in this position,” Hughton said, but it turned out to be the moment that decided the game. After four unbeaten games, Brighton found no way back and while Klopp admired his five-man midfielder, it was a different story as they watched the game.
“It’s always a disappointment [not a goal attempt], but I was aware of the team we were involved with,” Hughton said. “The most important thing is to stay in the game. If you play open and expansive and meet two or three goals, there is generally no way back. I thought it was the right tactic against the best team in the country. I’m glad we ran as close as we did. “
Still, it did not feel like the most entertaining team in the country, as Liverpool struggled to get the ball rolling in the first half. It felt as if they were waiting for a mistake from Brighton, who finally came. For the same reason, Liverpool guarded free-kick strikes that allowed the home team to unleash Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk in the opposing area. Even when Liverpool scored a goal, it took a while for Brighton to try to force the problem, and as a result, it felt like it would become a very slow opponent of a game.
In the end, Hughton had sent Anthony Knockaert and Florin Andone to force the case, but it was too late. Virgil van Dijk, as one would expect from the great Dutchman, took care of the more direct approaches that Brighton attempted. On days like this, when the defense can not afford to set foot on the wrong foot, it’s invaluable.
Another 16 games are between Liverpool and the historic achievement of the club’s first championship title in 29 years. Klopp said he never wanted his team to win again, and there’s no doubt that he believes in these players. When the final came into view, he talked about maturity and the avoidance of mistakes that had undermined previous title bids, and from now on this mantra is probably the reality.