Anfield, Liverpool – Liverpool are beginning to look like the real deal. Of course, it is only early days but in their three Premier League matches so far, they have shown progression from last season’s foundations. They are the early pacesetters. However, they have gone about it in a slightly different way, nowhere was it more evident than in the win against Brighton.
This was not swashbuckling Liverpool – the ones that mesmerised and capitalised emphatically last season. Rather than dramatic peaks and troughs, they were level-headed; dominant but not as brutal. Brighton were defeated by a single goal from Mohamed Salah and although they never did enough to earn a point here at Anfield, their reputation was enhanced in this defeat as much as in victory last week over Manchester United.
However, it was Liverpool’s performance that was the most intriguing. They dominated and controlled but still looked nervy at times, especially when pressured at the back. At times, it all resembled a circus – plenty of flicks and tricks but still the potential of a possible mishap which had the spectators on the edge of their seats.
When Salah finished a period of home dominance to score on 23 minutes another goal flurry looked likely but for the rest of the half it never came. As the second-period began, there was a feeling that Liverpool would push on and try to separate themselves from their opponents even further, but they didn’t. Instead, the visitors compelled Liverpool to show the qualities of resilience needed at Selhurst Park last Monday.
The front three were not as rampant as they can be, and at times the Kop certainly felt that there was room for improvement, but there was plenty of enthusiasm for the resolution of the back four and maverick goalkeeper. The Brazilian’s 88th minute save to deny substitute Pascal Gross – a reward for Brighton’s improved second-half showing – was well received around Anfield.
Everything the new number one does prompts hearty enthusiasm, even when he is flicking the ball over Anthony Knockaert’s head or delaying a pass long enough to invite a cavalry charge to Liverpool’s six-yard area. It is still a fine line between exuding confidence and being too relaxed but the £65 million man is the right side of it for now. It could be down to boredom or simply being Brazilian.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, who was Liverpool’s best player on the day, even commented post-match that he had never even seen an outfield teammate try such insolent skill during a game never mind a goalkeeper. Alisson was the name on everyone’s lips as the crowd descended onto Stanley Park after the final whistle; apart from his showmanship, his superb distribution and fearless punching were well recognised.
But perhaps the fact that Alisson, Alexander-Arnold and defensive midfielder Gini Wijnaldum were Liverpool’s stand out performers shows the type of performance that the hosts displayed. Yes at times it was pretty – and also pretty nervy – but it felt like they were in cruise control despite only being a single goal ahead. Brighton had their own chances – mainly in their improved period during the second-half – but they were largely pinned back to their own penalty area.
Jurgen Klopp hinted that his side lost their ‘patience and mindset’ in the second-half, they didn’t test Matt Ryan nearly enough as they should have done given their possession. Victory was only preserved with Alisson becoming only the fourth Liverpool goalkeeper ever to keep a clean sheet in his first three matches for the club. It was all rather tight and it didn’t need to be.
And yet, winning in such circumstances – attackers wayward in front of goal, defenders largely solid but still slightly susceptible – must be considered a positive. There is more that Liverpool can bring to the table and yet this performance was still acceptable and, more importantly, victorious.
Liverpool’s tests get upgraded next week with a trip to Leicester – visits to Tottenham and Chelsea also come in the next month – and it will be interesting to see how they respond. But from first impressions, there is plenty of signs that they are to be considered a real force in this season’s league.
Consistency in terms of performances and results was what Liverpool needed to improve on from last season. So far they gained maximum points having scored seven and conceded none on the way. They showed high levels of quality and invention against West Ham, a newfound sense of resilience and robustness against Crystal Palace and now an effective performance in a match where things didn’t go entirely there way.
Supporters will have to realise that winning margins of four or more goals will be less common this season as Klopp focuses more on consistency rather than always being involved in a shooting match with their opponents. Whisper it quietly but there is also a desire for more control and less swashbuckling – an evolving character Liverpool may be, but it might be just for the best.
Dominating difficult periods of the game is something that the best teams aim to conquer. Last season, Liverpool’s most testing periods often led to a concession, usually at least one goal, occasionally a point or even three. Even this soon in a campaign – with Liverpool’s manager suggesting it ‘not a particularly interesting time to be top’ – it felt there was more than a win at stake. Psychologically, Liverpool needed to justify their billing with this kind of start.
No-one is more reluctant to presume Liverpool are engaged in a head-to-head with Manchester City than Klopp, and with the champions dropping points at lunchtime, Liverpool’s first opportunity to punish a rare blip arrived at dinnertime. It bodes well for Liverpool they have kicked off the campaign winning the games they often threw away. It will encourage them further when they start winning in the style they are used to. Rather than relying on one way only, Liverpool are showing that they are developing into a multi-faceted team, more rounded and more complete. Liverpool really are beginning to look like the real deal.