After the anemic opening 70 minutes on Sunday, Liverpool came out like a house on fire at Brighton tonight, and although it never became the cricket score the opening ten minutes promised — largely down to an impressive performance from the hosts, who looked back to their confident and dynamic best after a run of buckle down and get the points-style performances — but the Reds absolutely should have notched a few more, even if they perhaps deserved to concede a few as well.
Below, we take a look at the winners and losers as Jürgen Klopp’s men continue their assault on the record books.
The Egyptian King: While he missed a couple of sitters in injury time and absolutely should have squared it for a wide open Sadio Mane on the hour mark, Mohamed Salah was in fantastic form on the night. Taking his tally on the season to 19, three behind Jamie Vardy at the top of the pile, Salah looked ravenous for a third consecutive Golden Boot, and the rest of the team appeared to be on his side, doing their level best to set the Egyptian up for more as time was running out.
If Mo gets to take 8 shots, he’s gonna score a couple, and Brighton just could not keep up with the attacker tonight. Here’s to spoiling the Vardy party!
The Guinean Midfield Maestro: In the category of complete midfield performances, the past 140 or so minutes from Naby Keïta have got to be discussed. Against Villa at the weekend, the 25-year old was responsible for bringing the ball out of defence and into the final third, touching the ball more than any other player in his 80-odd minutes on the pitch, and popping up with an assist as soon as he was pushed higher up the pitch with the introduction of Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson.
Tonight, the Guinean started the match in that role, and in 60 minutes, produced four ball recoveries, of which three lead to clear cut chances and two to goals, completed three out of three dribbles, produced four key passes, and only gave up possession once. In just three days, we’ve gotten to see the spectrum of Naby’s abilities.
Although he has only played limited minutes this season, Keïta’s underlying numbers have been nothing short of world class, and if recent performance are anything to go by — and he is able to stay healthy — it looks as though the former Leipzig man is finally about to come good for the Reds.
The Welsh Wonder: Having made terribly optimistic — and spectacularly inaccurate — predictions about them, this writer is reluctant to get over-excited about Liverpool youth prospects. They just really, really rarely pan out, and in Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Reds could genuinely be witnessing the emergence of a potential future club GOAT, so it seems terribly fanciful that new starting-level youths are going to pop up anytime soon.
And yet. Curtis Jones just bagged his first Premier League goal at the weekend, Harvey Elliott has looked entirely at home regardless of the opposition, and tonight, Neco Williams announced himself on the big stage, having produced promising cameos off the bench in the past.
Sure, he got subbed at half-time after picking up a silly booking towards the end of the half, and he couldn’t keep up with the similarly impressive Tariq Lamptey’s pace on every occasion, but over the course of the 45 minutes he did play, the 19 year-old showed confidence on the ball, bravery in making last ditch tackles in his own box, and some outrageous passing, the pick of the bunch a 64-yard crossfield switch to Trent on the opposite flank.
Whisper it quietly, but Liverpool might have produced another first-teamer.
Ox: Players — and not just Liverpool ones — have come back from the enforced three-month break in a variety of states. Some, like Virgil van Dijk and Jordan Henderson appear to have missed not a single step, while others seem clearly diminished.
If Naby Keïta has shown the vastness of his abilities over the past two games, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has done the opposite. Covering a ton of ground without managing to get on the ball at all and mainly just generating fouls against Villa, the Englishman was moved to the left-wing tonight, and while nobody should be asked to replace Sadio Mané, the 26-year old was not even close.
Looking physically a little slighter than in the past, Ox is clearly not the dynamic presence he was prior to the year he missed due to knee surgery, and lacking match fitness, the former Arsenal man is struggling to make the right calls; when to push hard and when to back off, and the end result is a lot of fouls given away and a lot of half-made runs off the ball.
Liverpool are clearly committed to sticking with Ox, and we would love to see him back to his best, driving the team forward with his energy through the middle, but it is clear the 26-year old needs something to change for that to happen.
What Happens Next
Four games remain of this historic season, and the Reds need three wins to grab the record for points earned in a single league campaign. That won’t be easy, though, as the host Burnley at Anfield on Saturday, before traveling to London to take on a resurgent but hilarious Arsenal side next Wednesday.
Up the record-setting Reds!