Having dominated the first half Jürgen Klopp’s side had to fend off a much-improved Seagulls side after the break but did so to make it three consecutive wins to start the 2018/19 campaign, leapfrogging Manchester City following their 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier in the day.
The Reds were not at their best. Far from it, in fact. But they did not need to be in order to clinch the win. Moreover, these were the kind of games they dropped points in last season. Home draws against Burnley, Everton, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City meant the Reds were never title challengers, however good they were in Europe.
So if they truly can be title contenders this term, as plenty of neutrals and Liverpool fans believe, grinding out a narrow win over Brighton is a step in the right direction.
Here are five things we learned from the day’s late game at Anfield.
No Fabinho? No problem
At any other club the exclusion of a £39million signing from the team’s first three league fixtures would be cause for concern. At Liverpool it could be described as the norm.
Snapped up from Monaco this summer, the expectation was Fabinho would walk into Liverpool’s new-look midfield along with fellow new-boy Naby Keïta, leaving Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Gini Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to fight it out for the remaining spot.
But the Brazilian has only once been named as a substitute and was not even in the 18 for this evening’s win over Brighton, or the win at Crystal Palace. But no matter – this is how Klopp likes to do things.
Last season Oxlade-Chamberlain made just three Premier League starts before November. Yet once he was deemed to be fully up-to-speed the England international thrived. Playing for a Klopp side is unique; it takes time to fully assimilate with the needs of the team.
“It is about players understanding the position and who else is available as well – otherwise Fabinho would have been involved in the squad, as he was in the first week,” Klopp told the club’s website prior to the game.
“That is it. It is different football to what he is used to but he is improving already with big steps. I can see that in the sessions and that is cool.”
If Fabinho enjoys the same impact as Robertson and Oxlade-Chamberlain in his maiden Anfield season Klopp’s patience, and approach, will be more than justified.
Milner anything but boring…again
Liverpool’s Mr Utility was everywhere. With Keïta for company in midfield it can’t be easy to stand out but the former England international did so regardless and was the heartbeat of the side.
He has enjoyed a fine start to the new campaign on the right-hand side of Liverpool’s midfield three and, on this evidence, the 32-year-old is determined not to be the one to give up his place to Fabinho when Klopp deems it the right time to unleash his new signing.
Milner’s career has had several distinct periods and he is in the middle of the latest. From fleet-footed, highly rated teenage winger at Leeds United and Aston Villa to reliable, workmanlike central midfielder at Manchester City, we’re now looking at Milner 3.0.
This Milner is far from boring; he does a bit of everything and that was evidenced by the fact he finished with more final-third passes (34) than anyone else, as well as winning two of the three tackles he attempted and recovering possession ten times – more than anyone else on the field.
It has taken until the near-twilight of his career, but Milner is getting the appreciation he has long been due for an outstanding career. On this evidence, there is plenty more to come from Liverpool’s ‘boring’ midfield custodian.
Tactical tweak fails to pay off
The decision to leave Brighton talisman Pascal Groß on the bench raised eyebrows prior to kick-off.
The German schemer proved to be one of the bargains of last season after joining from Ingolstadt for a paltry £3million and his expected goal contribution (assists + goals) of 9.92 was fourth among all Premier League midfielders. .
But Albion boss Chris Hughton was fully aware of the size of the task facing Brighton at Anfield – their record vs. the Reds in the top flight reads played two, lost two, conceded nine – and felt his side needed the extra insurance offered by a five-man midfield, handing £15million man Bissouma his debut in midfield.
The former Lille man was charged with solidifying the Seagulls and started well, making a timely interception after just three minutes. And for 24 minutes Hughton’s plan worked to a tee. Then Bissouma lost the ball cheaply to Milner and Liverpool took advantage, exchanging passes to release Salah to open the scoring.
Never one to display his emotions too overtly, Hughton must have been fuming. A quarter of the game gone without event and the game plan was up in smoke thanks to a momentary lapse in concentration which left the visitors having to re-think their game-plan.
In fairness to Bissouma, he recovered well and finished with more interceptions (7) than anyone else on the field. At 21 he is one for the future as much as now and Hughton, like Klopp, has not rushed his new faces in either. Patience is needed but the Ivorian is unquestionably a talent.
Salah won’t be a ‘one-season wonder’
By now the dual-reigning King of Egypt and Anfield is used to this. When he arrived on Merseyside last summer there were question marks over the £37million fee Liverpool paid – for the record, an outrageous bargain – and, more pertinently, whether the flaky winger who was drummed out of Chelsea was now the real deal.
After winning the Golden Boot, breaking records for fun and establishing himself as one of the Premier League’s best, those questions were emphatically answered.
Inevitably, though, the new campaign was met with a raft of new doubts. Could Salah repeat his feats of 2017/18 or was that merely a freakishly good season?
Mohamed Salah: One-season wonder?
Season Goals xG 2014/15 6 3.81 2015/16 14 9.38 2016/17 15 13.41 2017/18 32 25.14
His perfectly placed strike against Brighton means he has two already. Last term he out-stripped his expected goal statistics, including post-shot xG which measures only on-target efforts (24.25) by some distance.
Replicating those numbers will be difficult. But if Salah’s recent career trajectory and statistics tell us anything, it’s that he’s not been a one-season wonder for a while now.
Alisson proves value of reliable No.1
Despite dominating the first half, Liverpool were unable to build on their single-goal advantage in the second period and Brighton, having fallen behind sloppily, were forced to come out and play more than they might have anticipated.
The Seagulls made a good fist of trying to find an equaliser and on more than one occasion the hosts were indebted to new £66million stopper Alisson. The highlight of the Brazilian’s display was his fine reaction stop to deny substitute Groß from close range late on.
Home games against Brighton are not why Klopp spent a then-record £66million to bring Alisson to Anfield from Roma. The hope is an upgrade between the sticks will count in clutch moments – like the Champions League final. Sir Alex Ferguson famously claimed a good keeper was worth 15 extra points a season.
Yet Alisson underlined exactly why a team aiming for the top honours needs a top keeper with his concentration coming to the fore when Liverpool needed it most. Keeping goal for a club with Liverpool’s ambitions means a lot of quiet afternoons punctuated by do-or-die moments. Alisson came up big when it mattered today.