Liverpool verdict - Priceless win showed Reds' resilience as Premier League title charge remains on track
James Pearce runs the rule over Liverpool's win over Brighton as Mohamed Salah's penalty downs the Seagulls
By James Pearce
19:07, 12 JAN 2019
Normal service has been resumed.
Liverpool banished their January blues as they returned to winning ways on the South Coast.
It wasn't pretty and it wasn't totally convincing but the outcome was absolutely priceless.
Jurgen Klopp puffed out his cheeks at the final whistle and went over to applaud a relieved travelling Kop.
Victory over Brighton – secured courtesy of Mohamed Salah's second-half penalty - extended the Reds' lead at the top of the Premier League table to seven points.
Their rivals smelt blood after Klopp's side had lost their proud unbeaten record at the Etihad and then crashed out of the FA Cup to Wolves.
But when the pressure was cranked up, Liverpool delivered. Not with a show of brutal force, but by showcasing the qualities which helped them set the pace in the first half of the campaign.
This was all about guts, hunger, unity, resilience and the steely work ethic Klopp has instilled.
That fighting spirit was epitomised by Liverpool's very own Braveheart.
When Andy Robertson thundered into a tackle on substitute Anthony Knockaert late on and earned the throw, he celebrated like he had just discovered a winning lottery ticket.
The Scottish left-back, who became a father for the second time on Thursday, was outstanding once again as Alisson Becker made it 13 clean sheets in 22 league games.
Unlike Liverpool's last title challenge five years ago, this pursuit of the big prize is built on strong foundations.
The Reds have the ability to blow opponents away but, crucially, they can also grind out results when not at their sparkling best. Despite a nerve-jangling finale, the Seagulls failed to muster a single shot on target.
Fabinho made light of the club's defensive injury crisis by performing brilliantly as a makeshift centre-back after Klopp opted not to throw Joel Matip straight back in.
The Brazilian midfielder was given a helping hand by Virgil van Dijk, who oozed class and composure once again. Van Dijk is so good you get the impression even Torben Piechnik would sparkle alongside him.
Fabinho deserves huge credit for how he has stepped up and proved his worth over the past month.
The £43million man has gone from providing a couple of assists and opening his account for the Reds to shutting down opponents at the other end. Talk about versatile.
Time and time again Fabinho was in the right place at the right time at the Amex Stadium to make vital interceptions and clear the danger.
The first half was dour but after Salah slammed home his 17th goal of the season just after the break they raised the bar and the outcome was never seriously in doubt.
There's a maturity about this Klopp team. They don't take stupid risks and they know how to control games when they have got their noses in front.
Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri were the only players retained from the FA Cup defeat to Wolves as Klopp brought back his big guns.
It was a 4-2-3-1 formation full of attacking intent with Shaqiri on the right, Sadio Mane on the left and Roberto Firmino playing in behind Salah.
But Liverpool struggled to create chances during an instantly forgettable opening 45 minutes. They enjoyed 77% possession but did precious little with it.
There was a lack of spark and guile in the final third. With Brighton defending so deep with 10 men behind the ball, there was minimal space for the Reds' frontline to operate in. Being patient was crucial.
It was at the Amex Stadium last season when Robertson truly launched his Liverpool career. Thirteen months on, he's not only one of the first names on Klopp's teamsheet but the best left-back in the Premier League by some distance.
He's a model of consistency and once again he caught the eye. Rock-solid defensively, he also raced forward as every opportunity to provide an outlet. One great cross sparked panic but Firmino, at full stretch, couldn't turn it home.
There was a rare scare when Glenn Murray got in between Fabinho and Trent Alexander-Arnold but he nodded over from 10 yards out.
Klopp cut an agitated figure on the touchline – urging his players to move the ball quicker and up the tempo.
The manager's mood wasn't helped by the sight of Lewis Dunk getting away with dragging back Virgil van Dijk when Alexander-Arnold swung in a corner.
Shaqiri glanced a header narrowly wide from Alexander-Arnold's inviting cross before Jordan Henderson's effort was blocked.
Whatever was said at half-time did the trick as Liverpool flew out of the blocks after the break.
Salah suddenly came to life. He forced the first save of the day from David Button before the contest's pivotal moment arrived.
An exquisite turn enabled him to skip away from Pascal Gross, who senselessly brought him down inside the box.
The German midfielder protested his innocence to referee Kevin Friend but replays showed it was a nailed on spot-kick. Salah picked himself up to hammer the penalty past Button.
Bizarrely, the Egyptian attacker was booed for the rest of the game by the Brighton fans for having the temerity to be fouled and then to punish Gross' blunder. They should have just appreciated the fact that they had a genius in town.
Once behind, Brighton had to ditch their game plan and show some ambition. Fabinho produced a fine block to thwart Gross' attempts to make amends.
Captain Jordan Henderson struggled in the first half with his wayward distribution hampering the Reds at times. But in the second half he was transformed and played a key role in ensuring they got the job done.
James Milner came on for Shaqiri as Klopp switched to 4-3-3 with Firmino on the left and Mane switching flanks.
Liverpool played within themselves, dealing with what Brighton threw at them and then countering at pace. Firmino stung Button's plans before Gini Wijnaldum dragged agonisingly wide after slick build up involving Firmino and Salah.
The margin of victory should have been greater with Mane and Salah spurning opportunities to kill the Seagulls off late on.
Remarkably, Liverpool haven't dropped a single point against teams outside of the top six so far this season.
Dry January is over. The title charge is alive and kicking.
Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Fabinho, Robertson, Wijnaldum, Henderson, Shaqiri (Milner 72), Firmino, Mane (Keita 90), Salah (Origi 90+4).
Not used: Mignolet, Moreno, Matip, Camacho.
Brighton: Button, Montoya, Duffy, Dunk, Bong, Stephens, Gross (Kayal 79), March (Knockaert 66), Propper, Locadia, Murray (Andone 66).
Not used: Steele, Bruno, Balogun, Sanders.
Referee: Kevin Friend
Goals: Salah 50.
Man of the match: Fabinho. Rose to the challenge expertly as a makeshift centre-back.
Liverpool player ratings - Fabinho the pick of the bunch as Reds strengthen title claims
Connor Dunn ran the rule over Liverpool's performers at the Amex as the Reds edged out their hosts 1-0
By Connor Dunn
17:07, 12 JAN 2019
Alisson Becker 7
Made a smart stop after a vicious strike from Locadia to make sure it wasn’t creeping in and came out to challenge well when called upon. Showed great awareness with just three minutes to go until half-time when Henderson played it backwards under pressure but too short to come out and calmly pass the ball away.
Trent Alexander-Arnold 7
Always made himself an outlet down the right and put over a couple of decent crosses. Was playing really high up the pitch with Brighton so deep which left Locadia to try and break a couple of times but got back well. Whipped over a lovely teasing free-kick which Brighton’s defence were beaten by but Mane on the end of it couldn’t quite control. Made an inventive backheel clearance in stoppage time to thwart any danger.
Did superbly filling in at centre-back. His positional play saw him cover wherever needed to block shots including one really strong chance for Gross to test Alisson. He was also well alert to counter-attacks and won a couple of aerial battles too. Not out of place one bit and the Reds best player. Was the best of the defensive line up.
Virgil van Dijk 7
As assured as ever at the back and, of course, didn’t look one bit bothered by the long balls coming over as he won just about every header launched his way. Had a moment in attack to get Liverpool forward but ended up getting caught a little high up the pitch and Firmino had to foul.
Andy Robertson 7
Drove down the left-hand side really well and put a couple of excellent teasing balls into the box. Was playing quite high up with Brighton letting Liverpool control possession and as such won the ball back further forward to get the Reds on the attack but also defended well when needed.
Jordan Henderson 7
In the middle and controlling most of the game. A lot of Liverpool’s passing went through him and he did well to get the Reds moving across the pitch and forward. Two sloppy passes put Liverpool on the back foot early on but did well after that and battled really intensely in the midfield second half and covered when he needed. Much better second 45 from the captain.
Gini Wijnaldum 7
Did well to get back and help the defence when needed and also to try and step up the tempo with Henderson. Filled in at left and right back when Trent and Robertson were high and ran the Reds forward. Had a chance to score with 10 minutes to go after Salah played the ball into him but he dragged it just wide with his left foot.
Xherdan Shaqiri 6
Unlucky not to score with a flicked header after a ball from Trent Alexander-Arnold was put across onto his head but it just went wide of the left hand post. Tried to up the tempo but was quiet overall.
Roberto Firmino 7
Looked bright on a couple of occasions when taking on Brighton players. Worked extremely hard to chase the ball down when the hosts had it at the back and let a vicious effort fly from outside the box in the second-half after a driving run but could find the back of the net.
Sadio Mane 7
Had an excellent chance to play in Shaqiri but overhit the pass just as Liverpool looked to be through in the first half. Did demonstrate his wonderful ability on the ball to skillfully turn Brighton on a couple of occasions and was the most creative at the head of the field to keep working spaces and driving the Reds forward. Unlucky not to score when working an opening with Salah at the end as the shot was deflected.
Mohamed Salah 7
Found himself constantly surrounded by defenders in the first half. The second period was a totally different story - he was allowed a little space for the first time and jinked and turned his way past the Brighton defence five minutes in before being hauled down by Gross in the box to win a penalty which he confidently stepped up and slammed into the left corner. Should have scored at the end when it was put on a plate for him by Milner.
James Milner (Shaqiri 72) 7
Didn’t see a lot of the ball when he came on but made a couple of strong challenges to stop Brighton in attack. Played the ball in to Salah’s feet superbly from the left to give the Egyptian a glorious chance but it was not to be.
Naby Keita (Mane 89) N/A
Divock Origi (Salah 90+3) N/A
Ran down the seconds.
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