I was over the Manchester City result almost straight away.
It was frustrating to lose our first league game of the season and it was made all the more disappointing by the fact it was at the hands of one of our closest pursuers. The gap has decreased from 7 points to 4, which is still a very healthy lead and our fate is entirely in our own hands.
But it isn’t the Manchester City result that will define our season. It’s our reaction to that defeat. That game was essentially a free hit, a chance to go 10 points clear of the current champions and maintain a 9 point lead. However, we didn’t take the chance through a combination of dreadful refereeing, poor luck and the fact that City were basically better on the night and worthy of their win.
The game at Brighton will be a huge test of our mentality. Whilst there’s little doubt we are a better team than the hosts, they are a tough nut to crack on their own patch. They played very well at Anfield and we rather laboured our way to a 1-0 win.
But the big test here will be overcoming our first loss of the season. This is not just an ability thing, for me it’s more of a mentality question.
I am of the view that mentality is what separates the good players from the great players.
The elite players are more readily able to overcome setbacks. And that’s what our players must do against Brighton.
We’ve had to handle a small number of setbacks this season, our away form in the Champions League made our position in that group very difficult. However, we won the match against Napoli by the scoreline we needed to and progressed. We knew what we needed to do in that game and we should have won the game handsomely, but win we did.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 8, 2019
There may be a marked difference between the occasions, but a win on the South coast is just as vital. We have had such a fantastic start to the season that our run over Christmas has given us an unexpected margin for error. December 2018 is one of the best months I’ve ever had as a Liverpool fan. However, the vultures will begin to circle if we don’t immediately respond to our setback at the Etihad.
“Liverpool creak under pressure.”
“Title race wide open.”
That is just a small selection of the things you will see and hear if we don’t win on Saturday. There are already people, our own fans including, using the FA Cup loss at Wolves as evidence we’re in a bad run. I completely disagree with that assessment – we sent an understrength team out in the cup and got the result we expected.
We are still the favourites to win the league, but you can be sure that Manchester City will come on strong in the second half of the season. You also can’t rule out Tottenham, who are just 6 points back. Excellent champions have the best brought out of them by excellent challengers.
We’ll be doing it the hard way at Brighton too – there’s likely to be no Dejan Lovren and with Joe Gomez and Joel Matip already on the shelf through injury, it may well be Fabinho to partner Virgil van Dijk at centre half. That’s not ideal preparation for any game but it’s not something we can control. We have a very talented pool of central defenders, but unfortunately 3 are out injured simultaneously.
We’re just going to have to roll up our sleeves and get by as best we can. We have plenty of capability to play on the front foot, but we’ll need to make sure that we defend well. Glenn Murray is having an excellent season for Brighton and he is the exact kind of forward you don’t want to prey on defensive weaknesses.
A win sends a very strong message to the chasing pack.
Yes, we might have finally lost a game, but that doesn’t mean we are going to go on a bad run.
With City facing a difficult February, a strong winning sequence is essential. We have some much needed time off coming up in the absence of an FA Cup 4thround tie – but all of that is moot if we don’t immediately resume winning games.
The pressure is well and truly on now – but we play before Manchester City and Tottenham in our next two games. It needs to be us applying the pressure, not feeling it because that’s what the very best teams do.
*Odds are subject to change.