Brighton 1 Ashley Barnes (pen) 90'
Liverpool came out firing, looking to put doubts to rest in the wake of Sunday's shambolic visit to White Hart Lane—or, for the players who had been left out against Tottenham, perhaps attempting to show the manager that they were more deserving of starting roles. Whatever the motivation, the opening minutes appeared a kind of mirror image of the weekend, with Brighton filling Liverpool's former role as the side that could barely get close enough to the ball to send a panicked clearance into touch.
Dirk Kuyt and Maxi returned to the starting eleven to take up the more advanced roles in a loose 4-2-2-2 formation while Bellamy and Suarez operated as a central striking pair, each taking turns to drop back or wide to link play in a constantly shifting attack that looked more like the Liverpool that ended last season on such a high than the painfully static outfit on display in recent weeks. Meanwhile at the back, Sebastian Coates sprinkled a handful of nervy moments amongst mostly solid play in his full debut while Jamie Carragher slotted in at left center half—a roll he has taken on occasion under Kenny Dalglish reflecting the premium Liverpool's current manager places on having the left-sided center back be comfortable playing with his left foot.
Despite the strong start, however, it wasn't a performance without its problems, with Liverpool unable to convert a string of chances that could have seen them head into the half up four or five to nil. Their profligacy in front of goal, a long-running theme, meant that sooner or later Brighton's self belief seemed sure to grow. And indeed it did, with the freshly promoted Championship side showing why many consider them a solid bet to take the step up to the Premier League this season. Meanwhile, many of Liverpool's key players appeared to tire as the match wore along, their movement in possession and pressure in defence noticeably dropping.
All of which added up to a match that Liverpool will feel simultaneously unlucky not to have taken by a comfortable margin and exceptionally lucky not to have at least been taken to extra time in.
Still, from Martin Kelly returning from injury to block a sure goal at the end of the first as Brighton's game began to grow to Steven Gerrard's return for the final twenty-five minutes providing glimpses of the sort of player some thought they would never see again, it's hard to be too pessimistic about Liverpool's day on the whole. For all that there was a troublesome inconsistency to their play, at the very least they once again appeared a side with a pulse—and a desire to play pass and move football that kept the ball on the pitch.
That change in approach, however, provided no little cause to wonder where this Liverpool had disappeared to in recent weeks—or perhaps why players who are at best not currently capable of playing this brand of football have been locked into the first eleven ahead of those who can. In short, it was was one more bit of proof—as though any were needed—that the oft mentioned argument that new players need time to settle is a cheap dodge and completely irrelevant when it comes to current Liverpool players who may or may not need that time to adjust.
Luis Suarez rather obviously didn't take time to settle after arriving in January, and though he was given a well deserved rest against Brighton, new left back Jose Enrique has looked Liverpool's best player in the early going. Meanwhile Craig Bellamy has made an impact from the first minute he stepped (back) on the pitch in red while the club still has settled, proven workhorses like Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez available for selection, plus the capable if vanilla Jay Spearing. Spearing may never hit the heights that Charlie Adam sometimes does, but judging from his record over the past Premier League season it seems clear that against high-pressure opponents he's more than willing to put in the work defensively while engaging in a quick, short passing game to aid possession.
Watching Dirk Kuyt run tirelessly on the right, his defensive efforts of clear bennefit to Martin Kelly's game and a lung bursting run from one end of the pitch to the other to score the winning goal showing his clear benefit in attack. Watching Maxi Rodriguez pass and move around the final third, playing an integral role in keeping the attack alive so that Luis Suarez could put Craig Bellamy in on goal for Liverpool's first before Bellamy and Maxi combined to set up the second. Watching Bellamy himself buzz around constantly, a feisty companion for Liverpool's at times temperamental Uruguayan.
Watching all of that, it becomes hard not to wonder yet again why players taking time to settle should be an issue in the first place when such obvious alternatives exist. Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam, and Jordan Henderson may very well need time to adjust, yet any argument on that front is entirely immaterial when options are available who either don't seem to or who long ago got that settling out of the way.
None of which is to say those new arrivals are horrible, or wastes of money, or utter failures. They just aren't the best options currently at hand. One day they might be; right now they aren't.
Sometimes, at the end of the day, a win may just be a win—and good enough in and of itself for it. To an extent, a potentially tricky early round League Cup match qualifies as just this sort of win. Still, here, all of the questions left in the wake of Sunday's game against Tottenham remain, and even in victory the inconsistency shown—especially in front of goal—in what was a much more pleasing performance remains a massive worry. New worries about whether visibly tired players like Suarez, Lucas, and Jamie Carragher will be able to turn in strong performances on Saturday against Wolves have to be a new, short-term concern now, too. And this success against a Championship side—even a very good Championship side—certainly doesn't mean that Liverpool are once again set to take on all comers and storm to the top of the league.
What it does mean, however, is that after a rough couple of weeks at least things aren't any worse. And even if it doesn't offer any assurances of long-term solutions, at least it was nice to see the squad settle back into the pass and move of last season's Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish for one day.