Liverpool verdict - Nervy Reds keep their heads
Liverpool beat Brighton 2-1 in a nervy affair at Anfield to get 11 points clear of Man City at the top of the Premier League table
By Paul Gorst Liverpool FC correspondent 10:30, 1 DEC 2019
A serene stroll towards an 11-point Premier League lead was creeping into sight, but that just isn't Liverpool's style anymore, is it?
For 75 minutes, this was a routine as it has been all season for Jurgen Klopp and his players, but they couldn't resist dragging their supporters, once more, through the emotional wringer as the most tense and nervy 15 minutes suddenly, out of nowhere , descended onto Anfield.
Virgil van Dijk's double appeared to have set up the perfect response to more points dropped by Manchester City , who were held 2-2 at Newcastle, but a rush of blood from Alisson Becker turned this into a white-knuckle ride for those packed inside Anfield.
Lewis Dunk's quickly taken free-kick caught substitute Adrian napping and halved a deficit against the 10 men for the closing stages.
In a result that was entirely in-keeping with virtually everything that had preceded it, Liverpool again held their nerve to record a 2-1 win and strengthen their claims for a league title. Winning in comfort seemingly isn't the Reds makeup anymore as for the seventh time this season, a 2-1 margin was enough.
It's now 40 points from a possible 42 on offer. Crucially, on a day when Manchester City and Chelsea lost theirs, Liverpool - Alisson's aberration aside - kept their heads to extend an advantage that might now look impregnable from those looking up at it.
The game's kick-off was merely an afterthought for the 12,000 supporters on the Kop as they made their feelings clear on Thursday's Hillsborough verdict .
A prominent supporters' Twitter account had, earlier this week, urged fans to get in the ground before the game to show solidarity to the families of the 96 who went to a football match in April 1989 and never returned home.
The message was received, loud and clear, as the Kop, for the first half-a-dozen minutes, showed their ongoing support to the families who have so valiantly continued the fight for justice. Thirty years on, that justice continues to evade them.
Amid the anger, frustration and stoicism on the Kop, a football match eventually broke out on the pitch and the opener arrived in fairly simplistic circumstances.
Trent Alexander-Arnold flighted a lovely ball into Virgil van Dijk and the Ballon d'Or hopeful rose highest to head home after 18 minutes.
Right-back Alexander-Arnold was sorely missed for Wednesday's visit from Napoli . The 21-year-old has few equals in his position from an attacking sense, and he wasted little time proving that once more as he sent in a number of teasing and tantalising crosses for Liverpool to attack.
What a gem of a player the Reds have on their hands in this young man from West Derby. The best Academy product since Steven Gerrard 21 years ago, he claimed his second assist of the day before the half-hour mark when Van Dijk nodded in a corner.
The winner of Monday's Ballon d'Or award might already be decided as the Paris event draws nearer, but if it isn't to be the imperious £75million Dutch captain, his performance here gave the selectors a late chance to change their mind, with a two-goal showing alongside a typically resolute display at the back.
It's nearly two years since Van Dijk made Anfield history with his club-record move from Southampton. Klopp must take daily satisfaction from his decision not to pursue an alternative after the deal collapsed in June 2017.
For all the impact that the likes of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Alisson Becker have had on Klopp's team, it is Van Dijk whose instant transformation of Liverpool's fortunes has been the most stark. Reds fans are lucky to witness him in his pomp every week.
The Reds continued to push for a third and were denied one of the best team goals of the season when Mat Ryan held Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's shot after the home side had worked it into the penalty area with Andy Robertson, Gini Wijnaldum, Mane and Salah all involved.
Oxlade-Chamberlain gave a promising audition for the vacant slot left by the injured Fabinho. The defensive-minded Brazilian is set to miss the best part of the next two months, meaning a spot is available in Klopp's engine room. On this evidence, Oxlade-Chamberlain can expect to fill it with regularity.
The Reds pressed for the third in the second period and should have it from Oxlade-Chamberlain and then Mane.
A third goal did arrive, however, in the wrong end after goalkeeper Alisson was given a straight red for handball . A long ball over the top caused him to rush out to deny substitute Leandro Trossard but all the Brazilian could do was to handle it outside the area.
Referee Martin Atkinson didn't hesitate. Off went Alisson as Adrian was introduced for Oxlade-Chamberlain. The reserve goalkeeper's wild season took another unexpected twist. The Spaniard will keep goal for Wednesday's Merseyside derby with Alisson out with the suspension .
Lewis Dunk made sure from the free-kick, slamming a low shot into the corner with Adrian nowhere near ready for it. It was a poor start from the substitute shot-stopper who was probably still cold from the freezing temperatures.
Brighton pressed, probed and pushed for a third with their numerical advantage, but Liverpool, yet again, would not be denied. The ten men held on and claimed a huge three points on what could yet be a defining weekend in the title race.
Eleven clear and they show no signs of relenting yet. Reds fans will just be hoping for a calmer 90 minutes next time out. With the small matter of the Merseyside derby up next, however, you wouldn't bet on it.
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