Liverpool 4 Salah 26’, Lovren 40’, Solanke 53’, Robertson 85’
The life of a Liverpool supporter is typified by anxiety. I suppose this is likely true for most fans of any sports team that can be expected to compete but is not necessarily in the midst of a dynastic run of dominance, but with Liverpool’s history of coming excruciatingly close while not quite closing the deal, one can be excused with thinking that nervous excitement is a birthright for Reds fans around the world. So, with what looked on paper to be a straightforward path clinching a Top Four finish over the last few weeks, Reds fans began to share sad Ben Affleck memes and mutter Simon & Garfunkel songs to themselves as Liverpool managed to slouch and slump towards that tantalizingly close goal.
Thanks to stumbles at West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City, and Chelsea, the Reds left things late with any point out of this matchup against Brighton good enough to send Liverpool through to next year’s Champions League tournament. As if that weren’t pressure enough, any positive news to be drawn from the revelation that Adam Lallana would be in contention to make the match day squad was erased by reports late on Friday that Sadio Mane had picked up a knock and was questionable for Sunday’s big match. And just like that, Liverpool fans once more felt that familiar chill of coming up inches short of a major goal. All of that worry, though, turned out for naught as Liverpool turned in a comprehensive performance at Anfield against a hapless Brighton side.
Fans still had to ride out one more scare with news ahead of the match indicating that while both Lallana and Mané would indeed be fit, James Milner would be the latest injury casualty as Liverpool’s midfield begins to look more like a zombie squad than the robust, marauding unit we’ve come to know most of this campaign. With Mané slotting in to the starting XI, Milner’s absence meant that Dominic Solanke would get the call at striker with Klopp swapping out his preferred 4-3-3 for a 4-2-3-1, with Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson at the double pivot and the attacking triumvirate of Mané, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah taking up the band of three.
The tactical wrinkle looked to have been the right call as Liverpool quickly imposed themselves onto a Brighton squad that never really looked to threaten. From the off, Liverpool looked bright and spry, moving forward and passing through the Brighton defense with ease. Initial efforts were off target, but it was clear that Liverpool came for the win. Early big chances came in the way of a clear penalty waved off by head referee Kevin Friend and a muffed 2 v 1 break with Mané electing to go for a shot instead of squaring to a wide-open Firmino.
It all looked like it might be a bit of a frustrating day for the Reds - and, perhaps, another edition of We Need to Talk About Kevin (Friend) - until that Magic Man from Egypt, Mo Salah, got the scoring started with his record-breaking 32nd goal in this premier league campaign off of a nice lay off from Dominic Solanke. And just like that, Liverpool began to find their footing. Another 2 v 1 break featuring Mané and Salah was sprung shortly after, but Mané - perhaps still smarting from his previous trip down - hesitated before playing a short pass to Salah who ended up running right into Mat Ryan.
At 40 minutes, though, unlikely hero Dejan Lovren rose up with an emphatic header of an Andy Robertson cross. Just like that, Liverpool headed into the dressing room with a 2-nil lead and fans went into the break with the knowledge that Rafa’s Newcastle were doing LFC a solid by holding a shock 1-nil lead over Chelsea. Top four was just within reach.
Coming into the second frame of action, there were no changes to the squad and unsurprisingly no changes to the run of play. At 53 minutes, Dominic Solanke was rewarded for a solid turn at striker with his first Liverpool goal courtesy of a Mo Salah assist.
Liverpool were comfortably cruising and it was only a matter of time before Liverpool’s Big 3 were substituted off. First to make way was Sadio Mané for Adam Lallana at the 74th minute, with Bobby Firmino and Mo Salah coming off at the 83rd for Danny Ings and Ben Woodburn. Reds fans breathed a sigh of relief as the talismen were brought off healthy for the Champions League Final. They can also take a lot of positives out of the level of performances from the substitutes with all three being bright from the off.
Danny Ings was himself at the center of the final goal as his dangerous cross was blocked by a Brighton defender right onto the waiting boot of Andy Robertson for the fourth of the match and the first in the young defender’s bright Liverpool career.
All told, it was a comfortable match. Liverpool got the result they needed and even chipped in with their 17th clean sheet - the first Premier League campaign with that many clean sheets since Rafa Benitez’s last year at the helm. Positives abound and the lads all get to take a short breather ahead of the Big One in Kiev. Bring on Madrid and bring on Number 6.