Liverpool 11 points clear despite Alisson red as Van Dijk sinks Brighton

Andy Hunter at Anfield
Sat 30 Nov 2019 17.15 GMT

Was this the day Liverpool seized control of the title race? No, that happened when Manchester City were deservedly defeated here last time out. All that can be said for sure after Brighton were beaten at a surprisingly fraught Anfield is this was the day the Premier League champions disappeared from Jürgen Klopp’s rear-view mirror.

A strange affair it was too. Liverpool were in control and comfortable after Virgil van Dijk put two headers past the Brighton goalkeeper, Mathew Ryan, in quick succession.
Then, with 14 minutes remaining, Alisson was dismissed for handling outside his area and Lewis Dunk converted the resulting free-kick. Cue unexpected tension. Adrián, Liverpool’s replacement keeper, saved at full stretch from Aaron Mooy and almost fumbled a tame header by Pascal Gross over his goal line.

But the 10 men held out to extend their lead to a remarkable 11 points by the end of November. Klopp blew a sigh of relief on the final whistle, although it could have been disbelief at 13 wins from 14 league games and a margin for error in the Premier League that suggests Liverpool’s 30-year wait for the title might end at a canter.

“None of the 13 games we won was easy,” said Klopp. “We didn’t feel it for a second. It is not as though we feel ourselves as favourites in some games. We fight with all we have for the result. Result-wise it is an incredible period but we don’t think about the last 14 games. We have to think about the next one, which is Everton and a big one.

“It became more complicated today with the red card and the change we had to make. We brought on a frozen goalkeeper. Imagine you go on there with shorts, a really thin shirt and gloves that are not made for keeping you warm. Some people let the free-kick happen like that and we looked a bit silly in that moment but Adrián helped us a lot. I am really proud of the desire the boys showed. The red card made it a really special win.”

City’s draw at Newcastle and the prospect of edging ever closer to that league title were forgotten at kick-off when the game opened with a powerful reminder of what matters most. The entire crowd, Brighton supporters included, rose to their feet as “Justice for the 96” echoed around Anfield for the first six minutes of the game. The Kop was bedecked in Hillsborough banners in response to the latest kick in the teeth for the victims’ families, Thursday’s verdict that David Duckenfield was not guilty of the gross negligence manslaughter of those unlawfully killed at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” read one.

Admirably, and as always, Liverpool’s players stayed focused on the task. Klopp has identified his team’s refusal to be distracted by title talk or unbeaten runs or hectic schedules as important as their outstanding talent. It was evident once more as they parked the emotion in the stands and brushed aside the absence of the injured Fabinho to establish a commanding lead. It was founded on two precise assists from Trent Alexander-Arnold and two immaculate Van Dijk headers.

The Brighton section protested vociferously when Gross was adjudged to have fouled Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Their team’s failure to track the not insignificant figure of Van Dijk at the resulting free-kick warranted more complaint. Alexander-Arnold floated his delivery deep into the area, where Liverpool’s towering central defender rose unmarked to send a looping header over Ryan.

The visiting keeper was beaten again when his defenders switched off at a Liverpool corner. Alexander-Arnold was the provider once more, this time driving the ball to the near post, where Van Dijk escaped Dunk and steered a powerful header beyond the rooted Ryan. It was Alexander-Arnold’s 18th assist since the start of last season, more than any other Premier League defender. It was Van Dijk’s eighth league goal since the start of last season, more than any other player, and also Liverpool’s 41st set-piece goal in that time, more than any other team in England’s top flight. To think some people argue it is just luck.

Liverpool eased off after the second goal, appearing content to conserve energy, and the nerves would have crept in earlier had Dunk converted one of two fine chances. The Brighton captain denied Van Dijk a hat-trick, in fairness, with a well-timed challenge as the defender shaped to convert and diverted an Oxlade-Chamberlain shot wide.

The hosts were untroubled but one long ball over the top almost changed everything. Leandro Trossard beat Dejan Lovren in a foot race and, as the substitute attempted to lob the advancing Alisson, the Liverpool keeper handled yards outside his area. The referee, Martin Atkinson, had no option but to show the Brazilian a straight red card, meaning he will be suspended for Wednesday’s Merseyside derby, but despite a stirring finale from Brighton there would be no further punishment for Liverpool. The leaders are cruising clear.

Copyright - The Guardian

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