As we all know and have known forever, sports was a mistake from the beginning, and any attempt to enjoy it does nothing but reveal ones hubris.
As such, we take no pleasure in relaying the cold hard facts about winners losers and tactical details from tonight’s match.
Tactical Adjustments: Liverpool were completely neutered by Brighton in the first half, managing only two shots, one of which was a blocked effort from 25 yards, and looked completely bereft of ideas.
Despite it not paying off with a final result, the changes Jürgen Klopp made at half-time — and in the second half — made a massive difference in how the Reds exploited what space existed in Brighton’s defensive zone. Switching to a 4-2-3-1 and moving Shaqiri to the right flank where he could avoid drifting into the same areas as Andrew Robertson, Liverpool time and again were in position to drive at the visitor’s box from the centre rather than being dispossessed out wide with no option in the middle. Their best chance of the second half — whizzed past the post by Mohamed Salah — came as a result of a flowing move taking advantage of all the angles provided by the formation change, and the feeling was that, with just a little more quality, they could have pulled one or two back.
In the end, it proved to not be enough however, because...
Squad Depth: With Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joël Matip, Fabinho, Naby Keïta, Diogo Jota, and now Alisson and Sadio Mané missing through injury, the Reds appear to have reached a threshold where the simple issue of available personnel drastically impairs their ability to look anything like the team that walked the league last year.
Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri are decent backups, and Curtis Jones is an immensely gifted youngster, but when all of these pieces — along with a 16th centre-back pairing of the season protecting a 22-year old backup goalkeeper — are tasked with replacing genuine world-class players and mounting a comeback against a well-organised mid-table side, that challenge will sometimes prove too grand.
Hopefully, Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies can step in and at least allow Jordan Henderson and Fabinho to be fielded in their favoured positions and allow for some rotation of the squad. Hopefully Mané’s injury is not serious, and Jota’s return imminent, and the Reds can look something like themselves again this year.
When the team is what it was tonight, though, they’re simply top four contenders, not more.
Credit to the Opposition
Brighton may sit 15th in the table, but based on underlying numbers this season, they should be competing for European places, and, as was the case at the AmEx back in November, they looked a lot more like the latter than the former tonight.
Alternating between an aggressive six-man counter-press and a defensive mid-block featuring remarkably assertive and well-coordinated closing down, they clogged Liverpool’s flanks, stymying their main avenues of attack in the 4-3-3. Liverpool’s adjustment in the second half flustered them somewhat, but resolute defending in the box held when the press could not.
At the other end, the Seagulls’ base play excels at spreading out their formation as soon as possession is gained, setting up passing angles to find the open man and confidently bypass the press, before pushing numbers into the box, overloading defenses.
Their goal tonight — while the finish was an absolute fluke — came at the end of a flowing move that ended with the towering Dan Burn being released by a far post cross and nodding the ball back into the area where Brighton attackers were lined up to tap it home.
If sports are just — ha! — Graham Potter’s men will get the results their play deserves for the remainder of the season, and perhaps we’ll get to see what that man looks like when not managing the youngest and 15th most valuable squad in the league.
What Happens Next
It’s the big one, except now it’s just another game the Reds really can’t afford to lose, as they host Manchester City on Sunday. The blue mancs have won nine straight in the league, scoring 21 and conceding just a single goal in that time, so, yknow, let’s hope Sadio’s back.
Up the top four chasing Reds!