On the face of it, Brighton & Hove Albion‘s 5-1 defeat to Liverpool at the Amex last week was a humbling for Chris Hughton‘s impressive newly promoted outfit. A kind of ‘welcome to the Premier League’ message delivered by one of the English top flight’s most dynamic and devastating attacking sides.
It would be easy, too, for heads to drop after the one-sided result, for Brighton’s players and staff to begin to question question their readiness for mixing it with some of the best and most expensively assembled teams in the country.
But, digging beneath the surface, there were plenty of positives for the Seagulls to take from the Liverpool defeat, and these must be clung to and focussed on ahead of Saturday’s crunch encounter with fellow Championship escapees Huddersfield Town.
Although Liverpool were able to take all three points back to Merseyside while healthily topping up their goal difference, the 5-1 scoreline was not necessarily reflective of the balance of play.
The Reds were utterly ruthless on the counter, breaking a lightning speed through the likes of Mohamed Salah, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino; Jürgen Klopp’s men dispatched their chances with unerring confidence.
Indeed, Liverpool’s five goals game from just six shots on target, often leaving Brighton goalkeeper Maty Ryan powerless to thwart their attacking juggernaut.
But Brighton were not without their own success in the game. Their only goal came via a well-taken Glenn Murray penalty, the striker’s fifth goal of the Premier League campaign. But the 34-year-old centre-forward could have had a hat-trick on another day.
Early in the second half, he was denied by a wonderful Simon Mignolet save from pointblank range after Brighton worked the ball well down the left flank and crossed for the veteran striker in the danger zone.
A last-ditch tackle from Georginio Wijnaldum in the first half prevented Murray from bagging what looked to be a certain goal, and the former Crystal Palace man sent a beautifully struck volley whistling inches past the far post laster in the game.
At full-time, the score suggested a resounding, dominant display from the visitors. But the underlying stats tell a rather different story. In terms of total shots, the Reds doubled Brighton’s output, aiming for goal 12 times to the home side’s six.
But when studying the expected goals (xG) stats for the game, it becomes apparent that this was not the drubbing it may have appeared to the casual observer.
The xG model uses historical data to give every shot taken a value based on the statistical likelihood of it being scored – the higher the decimal score up to one, the more often similar chances have been scored in the past.
Against Liverpool, Brighton’s total xG was 1.67, while the Reds’ was 1.96. This shows that Klopp’s side were highly efficient in their finishing, while Brighton created – if not scored – enough high-quality chances to roughly keep pace with the Merseysiders.
Of course, there is no use bemoaning the defeat, clinging to xG evidence, as expected goals do not lead to actual points on the board. But the metric does show that Brighton can consider themselves somewhat unlucky to have been trounced in the way they were, and that, on the balance of play, they were not blown away by their fourth-placed opponents.
Heading into their trip to the John Smith’s Stadium to take on Huddersfield Town, Hughton’s men, rather than ruing a heavy defeat, can take heart from the fact they were competitive with one of the Premier League’s best sides – even if the scoreline told a different story.
The Terriers are themselves a capable counter-attacking unit, blessed with pace up front and nous in midfield, so Brighton cannot underestimate their fellow top-flight newcomers.
But they showed enough last week to suggest they can navigate this potentially tricky tie against Huddersfield, provided they replicate the process rather than the outcome of their last game.