Liverpool temporarily reinstated their seven-point cushion atop the Premier League table with a mature and pragmatic 1-0 victory against Brighton at the AMEX Stadium, courtesy of a Mohamed Salah penalty.
Neither side had a shot on target to cheer about in the first half, with a free header for Glenn Murray at the back post providing the biggest chance of the match as Chris Hughton’s side executed their manager’s game plan to perfection in the early goings.
Despite enjoying more than three quarters of possession, Liverpool failed to test Brighton’s deputy goalkeeper David Button in the opening 45 minutes, but coming out of the break they showed an intent to leave their mark on the contest.
Salah was quickest out of the blocks, registering the first shot on target within minutes of the restart, and when he was played behind by Xherdan Shaqiri soon after, a bit of magic earned him a penalty from Pascal Gross, a gift that he gleefully accepted by firing the strike from 12 yards into the right side of the goal, past Button who guessed correctly.
The goal seemed to spark Brighton into life who enjoyed more possession in the second half and set about chasing an equaliser, but the Reds held firm at the back to be the first team to keep the Seagulls scoreless on their home turf since Leicester in March last year.
Big players step up for teams at times when it is most needed, and Salah is most certainly a big player and he stood tall for the Reds, ultimately winning them this match from his own boot.
He had a quiet first half, but from the beginning of the second half he altered his attitude and his positioning, getting at the Brighton defence whenever possible.
He began to drop deeper to receive the ball to feet and at times was picking up positions as a holding midfielder in front of the back four, getting the ball under control before lifting his head and running at the Brighton defensive set-up, or spraying passes between the lines to try get his side on the front foot.
His set up for the goal was vintage Salah. As soon as he picked up the ball from Shaqiri’s pass, there was never an intention but to work a way to goal as he rinsed Gross, twisting and turning before all that was left to do for the Seagulls midfielder was bring him down.
The Egyptian has continued his rich form from the penalty spot, too, with his fourth in the Premier League this season, and his third in just over two weeks.
Levelling the golden boot race with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Harry Kane once again, Salah continues to prove himself as one of the best players in the country and in European football, and will maintain a crucial importance in the Liverpool side as they look to lift the Premier League trophy.
Hats off to Chris Hughton
The first four times Hughton coached against Liverpool in the Premier League, he watched his teams net be breached five times, most noted by Luis Suarez’s freakish form against his Norwich City side’s of the early part of this decade.
Guiding Albion to the Premier League last season and to safety for this campaign, the 60-year-old has taken the club from strength to strength and has them in 13th place, a healthy eight points above the drop zone.
He has done tremendously with what he has on the England south-coast, reinvigorating an aging Glenn Murray to be a 10 goals a season plus striker, whilst keeping much of their Championship spine with the likes of Anthony Knockaert, Dale Stephens, and the ever reliable defensive partnership of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy.
Jurgen Klopp was full of praise for Hughton and his Brighton outfit during the week, and the praise was merited after the performance of the hosts, with the raucous support of the home fans adding to their impressive performance, highlighted by their solid defensive shape and fearless nature.
In just their second Premier League season, this loss was just their sixth in the top flight across all of last season and to the current point in this, a very impressive feat for a team in the middle to lower end of the table.
With greater experience and steady new additions into the side, Brighton look to be forming into somewhat of a Wigan Athletic or a Stoke City from the 2000s and early 2010s, being a team that knows how to take results and stay in the top flight for a consistent run of years.
Liverpool avoid turmoil
After defeat in the title six-pointer against Manchester City last time out in the league was followed by being dumped out of the FA Cup away at Wolves, perhaps an inch of doubt came into some Liverpool minds as they feared a collapse coming on.
However, the team rallied around and ensured that incredibly, Klopp has still yet to lose consecutive Premier League games as the manager of the Merseysiders.
The defensive transformation that they have undergone in this season is nothing short of superb. Incredibly, that City defeat was the first and only time they have conceded multiple goals in the league this season.
The Reds have conceded a massive seven less goals than any other team in the Premier League, and Alisson tops the clean sheet charts, with his 13 most closely contested by Kepa Arrizabalaga’s 10 for Chelsea.
Sometimes, pragmatism beats dazzling attacking play, and these are the games that champions win, where the going is tough at a difficult away trip, but they find a way to claim the three points- and Klopp’s team are just quietly beginning to look like a champion team.