To get a feel for how this game might pan out you only had to look at the performance of both teams last time out. On Monday night in South London, we ground out a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. It was dogged, it was determined and it wasn’t something we were used to seeing. The day before Brighton beat Manchester United 3-2 at the Amex. It was dogged, it was determined and, for different reasons, it was something they’re not really used to seeing. It wasn’t going to be easy and it wasn’t going to be pretty, but it needed to be victorious. That was what was important here, nothing but the three points.
Once again though we got more than we bargained for. For an hour we were dominant. Sure, there was a goal in there, a winning goal nonetheless. This game was about more than that though. It was about showing that we could hang in there, grin and bear it, hold our nerve, and still come out with the win. It was about showing that we had the character to capitalise on mistakes from rivals because rest assured, we may only be three games into the new season but City slipped up against Wolves at lunchtime on Saturday. We needed to maintain that pressure and send a message to the rest of the league – we’re next in line for a reason and you need to step up and prove we aren’t the best.
Brighton, in all fairness, gave it a good go. They crept back into the game and had chances to equalise. The problem though, plain and simple, was that they just weren’t good enough. I’m not being unreasonable by stating that either, it’s simply the truth. A better player than Anthony Knockaert would’ve punished us two minutes into the second half by not taking a touch and just smashing that home first time. A better header of the ball than Pascal Gross wouldn’t have given Alisson a chance to claim his third clean sheet in as many games by smashing the ball home ten minutes from the end. A better midfielder than Yves Bissouma wouldn’t have been caught in possession the way he was by James Milner in the lead up to Mohamed Salah’s twenty-ninth goal in twenty-nine league games at Anfield.
They put up a stern test though. They deserve credit. The United result was seen as a freak result in the build-up to this game and it was down to Chris Hughton and his boys to prove it wasn’t. I think it’s fair to say they did just that. I tip my hat to you, Brighton. However, in this game, against this dominant, rampant, relentless Liverpool side, that just was not enough.
“Dominant?” I hear you cry. “How on earth can you see that Liverpool were dominant when Brighton were so unlucky to walk away empty-handed?” Pipe down with your cliches and Tory idioms. Liverpool controlled the whole game, especially in the middle of the park. As well as 70% of the possession we also had a team pass completion rate of 87%, with Gini Wijnaldum impressively completing 25 of his 26 attempted passes giving him a 99% pass completion rate on his own. Brighton’s closest player to Wijnaldum’s freaky pass completion rate was Bissouma with 87%. To paraphrase Scott Steiner in his famous promo, the numbers don’t lie and they spelled disaster for Brighton. Add to this that Liverpool also had twenty-two shots on goal compared to Brighton’s mere six and you can see just how lucky Brighton actually were to make it with only a single goal against them.
You know what, we weren’t at our best on Saturday. In fact, we weren’t at our best against Palace either or against West Ham. As a matter of fact, we’ve hardly escaped third gear so far this season. Yet look how comfortable we look. We hardly seem troubled, hardly seem phased, by these lower mid-table sides showing up and parking the bus hoping to hit us on the break. There is no more panic in the first ten minutes of each game, no cries of derision from three sides of Anfield when we aren’t leading at half-time. We know it’s coming, the opposition know it’s coming, more importantly, the lads in red know it’s coming. We also have a competent goalkeeper and a centre-back pairing who among the most commanding in the league season.
Virgil van Dijk has continued his stellar form from last season and Alisson has so far proven to be the £67 million upgrade we needed on Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius. But someone buy Joe Gomez a bevy from me. The lad hardly played centre-half last season, spending most of his time coming in and out at right back. However, that has far from hindered him this season. On the contrary, much like Jamie Carragher did in his early days at the club, he looks like he’s benefitted massively from the experience. He made five clearances on Saturday, only bettered by Shane Duffy (eleven) and Leon Balogun (seven) in the Brighton defence. That comes from positional awareness and sniffing out danger before it develops – exactly what is required from a good full-back. If he isn’t a staple of future England squads then Gareth Southgate is blind.
Gomez is symptomatic of this evolving Liverpool side, however. He isn’t the only one consistently developing into a Premier League quality player, they all are, even the old hands. James Milner hasn’t played this well since his days at Aston Villa, enough has been said about Virgil van Dijk, even Jordan Henderson is reborn under Jurgen Klopp. Look how good these boys are now, three games into the season and with nine points under their belt. Imagine them after Christmas.