A Saturday on the south coast was all about the erosion of fear.
To wipe away any lingering doubts in the wake of a defeat in Manchester which threatened to see Liverpool spending the next five months looking anxiously over their shoulders. For forty-five minutes that trepidation was writ large in the hearts and minds of supporters as the Reds toiled in the face of a blanket Brighton resistance.
However, these lads always find a way;
A group of players for whom maturity, patience and sang froid dispel any notion of raw anxiety. If league titles are won by those who exhibit certainty and courage, this Liverpool team possesses these qualities in spades. Jurgen Klopp’s men remain unfazed by the pressure of leading from the front, their only business is to win football matches and leave the worry to their pursuers.
The first half at the Amex Stadium was a trial. A wall of blue and white shirts asking questions of Liverpool’s creativity; denying space, blocking passing lanes, endlessly in retreat. Chris Hughton’s week of preparation was laid bare in front of us, his players drilled to perfection, with little or no interest in possession and all the onus on the Reds to muster a tempo. Despite the promptings of Jordan Henderson in midfield, there was little in the way of incision or thrust; the ball shifted repeatedly from side to side in the vain search for an opening.
We’re going to have the Firmino song stuck in our heads every weekend for the rest of the season aren’t we
— Craig Hannan (@C_Hannan7) January 13, 2019
Andy Robertson, as always a bundle of energy on the left flank, was the most prominent outlet and when he finally fashioned some room, his searching cross into the penalty area evaded Sadio Mane at the near post before Roberto Firmino failed to connect with the goal at his mercy. In a game where chances would be at a premium, it felt like a crucial miss. Likewise, when Trent Alexander-Arnold found space on the right and crossed for Xherdan Shaqiri to nod narrowly wide, hands were clasped over eyes in frustration.
The break came with Liverpool having much to ponder, the efficiency of the home side’s suffocating defence in the first period threatening to leave the Reds goalless for only the second time this season. With no chance to counter, Klopp might have been considering a change in approach but as it turned out, there was no requirement as Brighton soon played into Liverpool’s hands.
An early second-half aberration from Albion’s Martin Montoya set Mohammed Salah away scampering towards goal only for his shot to be well smothered by David Button in the Brighton goal. It was only a temporary reprieve; the hitherto stifled Salah suddenly energised and alive. Just a couple of minutes later, the Egyptian slithered his way into the penalty area and as he shaped to shoot saw his left leg taken from under him by a clumsy intervention by Pascal Gross.
The Liverpool end screamed for a penalty and erupted when referee Kevin Friend instantly pointed to the spot. The tension among the fans behind the goal was palpable; the wait to see the kick taken agonising. We needn’t have worried.
Salah, unperturbed by the crushing weight of responsibility, blasted home with absolute certainty.
For all that this is a team of all talents, Salah is the talisman, the player most capable of conjuring something from nothing when it matters most.
If there was now an expectancy that Brighton would be more adventurous any real ambition failed to materialise. The home side threatened only briefly, but with Virgil Van Dijk marshalling the defence in his customary imperious fashion, Hughton’s side failed to lay a glove on the Reds’ rearguard. Alongside Van Dijk, Fabinho – pressed into emergency centre-half duties – was as unruffled as his partner; the Brazilian now an integral part of a squad which covets defensive parsimony.
🏟 50 Games
✅ 33 Wins
🤝 9 Draws
❌ 8 Defeats
⚽️ 2 Goals
🎯 2 Assists
🧤 23 Clean Sheets
🎶 “He’s our centre half, he’s our number 4…” pic.twitter.com/CB3OZAuzjF
— Watch LFC (@Watch_LFC) January 13, 2019
All that was left was for Salah to scoop inexplicably wide from point-blank range and to endure four minutes of added time. The final whistle brought relief but also the reminder that this Liverpool team has nerves of steel which belie the pressure of expectation. With yet another awkward away test passed, the home comforts of Anfield now beckon with the upcoming visits of Crystal Palace and Leicester. It feels like time to start roaring them home.
*Odds are subject to change.