After picking up six points from the first two games, Liverpool welcomed Brighton and Hove Albion to Anfield in round three of the 2018/19 Premier League season. The Reds were looking to turn that 6 upside-down as they chase Premier League glory, while the Seagulls were set to take heart from their fantastic win last week at home against Manchester United.
Asked about the possibility of fielding the same starting XI for the third time in a row, Jurgen Klopp revealed in his pre-game presser that was not necessarily a given, and that there are various possible reasons to shake things up a bit despite winning the two previous games.
But he still decided to keep things unchanged.
For the Seagulls, manager Chris Hughton revealed that Lewis Dunk was doubtful, and the involvement of Florin Andone, Jose Izquierdo and Bruno was ruled out due to injuries. This was the team that came out on the Anfield pitch to start against Liverpool:
The First Half
Liverpool couldn’t really impose their game on the visitors for a couple of minutes, but still, in the fifth minute Mane combined dangerously with Mo Salah and found himself in a good chance, but his low shot from around 12 yards just missed the target. Knockaert quickly retaliated by cutting inside to avoid Robertson and shooting from a tight angle straight at Alisson.
Soon it became obvious the Reds’ inability to take control stemmed from a lack of sharpness in passing. Brighton defended in numbers, positioning themselves smartly and making a number of interceptions, but in the ninth minute Robertson swung in a great cross and found Firmino. The Brazilian’s header was accurate but Matt Ryan got down really quickly and produced a fantastic save. Three minutes later a diagonal pass was aimed in behind at the run of Solly March, but Alisson was quick off the line to thwart him.
In the very next move Keita was charging forward when he was brought down from behind on the very edge of the box. Young Trent took the ball and smacked it against the bar.
As time went by, the Reds were slowly getting a grip on things. The defence was looking tighter and the attacks got more frequent. Mane ruined a good opportunity with a sloppy pass in the middle and Salah had a shot from a tight angle saved by Ryan within a minute or so. Milner wasn’t really at his best as he gave away a few unnecessary fouls in attack, but as the minute 23 started, the vice-captain slid in to win the ball back and give it to Mane and the attack sprang alive. Mane gave it to Firmino who engaged Salah on the wing, and the Egyptian produced a superb finish with a low shot to the far post to hand Liverpool the lead.
That was certainly the breakthrough the Reds had been looking for. Songs started flowing from the stands and the players started playing as they know how. Supported by the rest of the team, the front three were causing Brighton all kinds of concern non-stop. The visitors still defended with grit, but it seemed for a few minutes that they were getting dizzy.
On the half-hour mark, the ball fell to Wijnaldum inside the box and he turned beautifully to face the goal and took a shot, but Ryan was up to the task once again. Four minutes later a good diagonal by Salah found Robertson again on the left wing and the left back sent it in for Mane, but Ryan again rose to the occasion. The Brighton ‘keeper really had his hands full.
After a while though, the visitors composed themselves and started showing some attacking intent. They got a few set-pieces and started pressing high up, successfully preventing Liverpool from developing attacks quickly.
But it didn’t last long. With less than 10 minutes remaining of the half, the Reds broke through and pushed the Seagulls back again. They were calm, passing the ball around patiently, waiting for the right moment to drag an opponent out of position and then strike.
Mane simply wasn’t having a great game. He kept being uncharacteristically sloppy in possession and gave the ball away quite a few times. His teammates made sure nothing came of it at the other end, but several promising moments were ruined.
Liverpool did manage to weave a good move in the 44th minute though, ended by Firmino shooting over the bar from just outside the box.
They mostly kept possession calmly for the rest of the half, without any excitement.
The Second Half
Liverpool came out from the break as if they were on a dare to double their lead within a minute. They dazzled the visitors with some brilliant combos, but soon Brighton broke through Knockaert and the winger had a fantastic chance to level the score from around 12 yards but smacked his volley wide. A warning sign that the game wasn’t won yet.
Another worrying moment came in the 50th minute when Firmino clashed with Ryan and grabbed the lower part of his knee, but he eventually needed only to change his sock and came back on quickly.
The game went on pretty much as it had been for its largest part, with Liverpool mostly in possession, trying to work out a hole in Brighton’s not so impressive defending. The visitors were now playing as if fighting for their lives, and they were mostly happy to launch the ball as far away from their goal as possible.
The match was being played rather fair by both sides right until the 60th minute when Balogun caught Milner on the ankle with a terribly late tackle around 35 yards out. The Brighton midfielder was booked for it. The free-kick was smartly taken between Milner and Salah, and the Egyptian sent a cross in which got Gomez high up in the air, but the young centre-back’s header was too tame to trouble Ryan.
The Seagulls had a good chance from a free-kick when the ball awkwardly bounced and caught Milner on the hand around 20 yards from the goal. It was an excellent position for a right-footed shooter, but Bissouma smacked it into the wall and earned a corner. The corner was well-defended and that was the end of that moment.
Keita then made way for captain Jordan Henderson.
Minute 69 was passing when Trent and Salah created a good moment for Firmino, who tried to get around two defenders and worked himself into a tight angle from where he was unable to cause Ryan any problems.
Attacks followed one another at this stage as the Reds went in to kill the game. The ball was mostly with Salah, Mane and Firmino, only occasionally going wide to Robertson or Trent, while the midfield trio was tasked of picking up any loose ones and recycling.
With 15 minutes remaining on the clock, Hughton decided it was time to go grab a point and he took out March and Knockaert, replacing them with Jurgen Locadia and Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Immediately Brighton caused a few problems, with Trent earning a booking for stopping a counterattack with a foul and van Dijk putting Alisson into a spot of bother with a difficult back-pass. But the Reds held it out.
In the 80th minute Daniel Sturridge replaced Mane, and Pascal Gross came on for Bissouma.
Brighton were pressing hard now and there were a few nervy moments before Henderson finally won the ball and released Wijnaldum down the left flank, and Robertson earned a corner for the Reds.
But the battle wasn’t won yet. The Seagulls still weren’t giving up. They kept pressing hard and pushing forward, showing some admirable spirit. Liverpool were hard put to it to calm the tempo down and control the game. But four minutes from time, Milner found Robertson in behind with a superb lobbed pass, Robertson left it off for Trent but the right back’s shot was deflected out for a corner. It was taken to the near post where Sturridge tried a back-heel flick but couldn’t get the ball through a forest of legs.
Then Brighton really went for it and pushed the Reds all the way back, and a superb cross from the left found the head of Gross high in the air. The header was excellent and it would have beaten most goalkeepers, but not Alisson Becker.
A minute before time, Klopp sent in Joel Matip instead of Trent.
It was all or nothing for the Seagulls now and they started hoofing the ball, leaving even their centre-backs upfront, but the Reds still held on. Into the second of the three minutes of stoppage time, Liverpool finally managed to keep the ball in their opponents’ half and even created a good chance when Sturridge and Wijnaldum worked well to set up Salah for a shot from just inside the box, but the goalscorer lifted it far too high.
And that was it.
It was another hard-fought battle and another win ground out, and Liverpool are now the only team so far to have won 3/3 – which means they top the table. It’s an often spoken thing that titles are won by teams who are able to win even when they are not at their best, and the Reds were far from their best against a determined Brighton side.
They still won though and booked another three points, which is something Manchester City were unable to do at Wolverhampton earlier.
Next up – Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
We Walk On.