Liverpool v Brighton: Preview

The Champions League final might be dominating the agenda on the red half of Merseyside but Liverpool still need to pick up a point at home to Brighton on Sunday to guarantee a top-four place in the Premier League.
Tom Bodell  |  12th May 2018

Jurgen Klopp’s side are two points ahead of Chelsea, who head to Newcastle United, and know thanks to their superior goal difference a draw against the Seagulls will be enough to ensure they qualify for the Champions League again next season.

Of course, victory over Real Madrid in Kiev would take the Reds straight through to the group stages rendering their top flight finishing position irrelevant. Liverpool to win the Champions League is currently at 6/5 with RedsBet.

For Albion the trip to Anfield is one they can enjoy. Chris Hughton’s side ensured another season of top-flight football with victory over Manchester United last week and will be back again next season.

Our friends at Football Whispers have previewed Sunday’s season finale to bring you all the facts, stats and information you need ahead of the game.

 

Predicted line-ups:

With the Champions League final two weeks away Klopp can afford to start the big guns against Brighton and should name his strongest available XI.

That will mean a midfield trio of Gini Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and James Milner with Emre Can (back), Adam Lallana (hamstring) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) out.

At the back, Joe Gomez joined the Reds’ injury list this week after undergoing ankle surgery. Joel Matip (thigh) is also sidelined so Dejan Lovren and Virgil van Dijk will continue at centre-half.

Albion boss Hughton is without two long-term absentees in Izzy Brown (knee) and Steve Sidwell (back).

The big decision will be between Glenn Murray and Leonardo Ulloa up front. The latter started and scored in Wednesday’s 3-1 defeat at champions Manchester City and could keep his place.

 

Tactics:

In two-and-a-half seasons at Anfield Klopp has given Liverpool a new identity. The Reds are consistently among the Premier League’s best pressers, winning the ball back in the opposing third 4.26 times per 90 this season which is second only to Manchester City (5.71).

However, he has also subtly altered the way the Reds play from last season to this which is shown in Football Whispers’ Team Persona chart (below).

Now Liverpool attack with more pace, yet play fewer long balls, while their defending is less dogged – something the signing of Virgil van Dijk has helped.

Brighton, meanwhile, have also undergone something of a transition since finishing second in the Championship last season.

The Seagulls are conceding more chances, an inevitable consequence of promotion, while their build-up play is slower. Again, hardly surprising as they try to crack open top-flight defences. They are also delivering fewer crosses than last term (18.05 vs. 20.63).

 

Star men: Virgil van Dijk and Lewis Dunk

Most of the column inches and headlines, rightly, go to Liverpool’s electrifying front three. Yet the January addition of van Dijk from Southampton has been transformative. Van Dijk to score at any time against Brighton is currently at 11/2 with RedsBet.

The Dutchman has proven to be worth every penny of the £75million Liverpool spent on him – a world-record fee for a defender – and has taken the focus off the Reds’ backline.

Van Dijk wins an average of 5.38 aerial duels per 90, the fourth-most among Premier League defenders, but also fares well with the ball. He’s fourth for accurate passes (71.61), fifth for big chances created (0.15) and tenth for open-play key passes (0.3).

One the pillars of Brighton’s success, meanwhile, has been their backline. The Seagulls have conceded 50 times in the league this season, a record which is better than three top-ten clubs including Arsenal (51).

The partnership of Dunk and Shane Duffy at centre-half has been integral to that with the former winning plenty of admiration for his displays. With 1.75 tackles per 90 he is 17th among defenders in the Premier League while his 1.91 interceptions put him 17th again.

While Brighton’s game is quite direct – Dunk is fifth for long balls with 9.59 per 90 – the Sussex native can play a bit, too, averaging 0.27 open-play key passes which puts him 16th among fellow defenders.

 

Key battle: Mohamed Salah v Gaetan Bong

Goalless in his last three this has been Salah’s worst run of form for Liverpool since the beginning of October.

Despite that the Egyptian is seventh among players in Europe’s top five leagues (Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1) for goals per 90 with 0.98. For context, Robert Lewandowski (1.25) and Lionel Messi (1.02) are the only players to exceed a goal a game. Salah to score three or more against Brighton is currently at 7/2 with RedsBet.

The former Chelsea and Roma forward will fancy his chances of getting back among the goals at Anfield on Sunday but will face a stern test in coming up against Brighton left-back Bong.

The Cameroonian has been a model of consistency for the Seagulls this term and comes out 13th among Premier League full-backs for interceptions per 90 with 1.75 and 37th for aerial duels won (1.25).

Dribbled past just 0.5 times per 90, the 30-year-old will need to be at his very best to prevent Salah and Liverpool getting the best of him.

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