The last time Liverpool visited Brighton, just a couple of weeks ago, the Reds put on what was potentially the worst performance under Jürgen Klopp. This time out Liverpool put together a solid, if unspectacular, outing but it still wasn’t enough after conceding very late in the match to drop out of the FA Cup.
Below, then, we dig into some of the winners, losers and narratives on the night.
The central defender was immense against Brighton, both literally and figuratively. Ibou showed of his speed to make recovery runs against some fleet-footed attackers, and also went zoom more than once to step up and intercept a ball ahead of a Brighton player. He also made a massive block on the goal line to keep out a certain goal. Ibou used his large frame to good effect, bullying players off the ball on several occasions. The Frenchman was smart on the ball as well, and showed his great passing range with some well placed long diagonal balls.
The youngster was deployed as the left-sided attacker, which is not a spot that particularly suits him. Still, he managed to create some solid offensive output. He threaded a sumptuous through ball for Mohamed Salah to run on to for a 1v1 with the goalkeeper, and played a couple of other line breaking passes as well. While not blessed with great speed, Harvey proved to be a willing runner on the left, and got into shooting position a couple of times on the counter. He finished off the second chance he had for the opening goal of the match, showing great composure on the strike with his weaker foot.
Don’t look now, but Liverpool might have found their holding midfielder of both the present and the future. For the second match in a row, the 18 year old was given a starting role over the likes of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson and put forth a very solid outing. Bajčetić was solid on the ball, completing 85% of his passes, and was not afraid to look for options down the flanks. He was good at breaking up play in midfield as well, leading the team with three tackles while also making an interception. He’s still got some room to grow holding off the press and with decision making at times, but he’s shown composure and game intelligence well beyond his years in the early going. He’s obviously got the backing of the club having received a new long-term deal earlier this week.
Liverpool Midfield Stalwarts
Thiago, Jordan Henderson, and Fabinho made up the regular midfield trio that took Liverpool within a whisker of the quadruple last season. All three have struggled mightily with form this season. Of the three, Thiago was the only one to have a starting role against Brighton. Compared to most midfielders in the Premier League he was fine on the day. But it was still a startling contrast to the lofty standards we’ve come to expect from him. He’s turning the ball over in spots we’re not used to seeing, both while being pressed as well as misplaying passes. Don’t get me wrong, he still has his moments of brilliance, but it just hasn’t been the same for a while now.
The other two of last year’s triumvirate, Henderson and Fabinho, come off the bench. Hendo was ok, and helped provide some urgency on the press from midfield. He’s still misplacing too many passes, however. Fabinho, on the other hand, was a complete and utter disaster yet again. His first touch he had was a terrible attempt to control a simple pass, and it killed a promising Liverpool attack and sprang Brighton on the counter. Just a couple of minutes later he made an extremely rash challenge from behind, raking his studs down the back of Evan Ferguson’s leg. He was shown a yellow, but very much could have seen red.
After a brief foray into playing a 4-4-2, Liverpool have reverted back to a 4-3-3 the last few matches. While the formation has stayed the same, Jürgen Klopp seems to be trying to sort out the right combination of players to fit on the field. While no formation is static, and there are certainly plenty of tactical wrinkles thrown in, it is still a bit baffling to understand what they are trying to do with the front three.
If I told you that Mohamed Salah, Cody Gakpo, and Harvey Elliott were the starting attacking band, most wouldn’t bat an eye. But having Elliott on the left and Mo on the right while flanking Gakpo doesn’t seem to get the best out of any of the individual players. Most of the analysis of Gakpo when he was brought in showed his ability to progress the ball and deliver it from the left flank. When deployed through the middle, he has yet to show a consistent ability to either drag defenders out of shape like Roberto Firmino, or the instinct to be a shoot-first lead striker like Darwin Núñez or Mohamed Salah.
Harvey on the left also doesn’t seem to maximize his attributes, and changes the angles of his passes with his favored left foot. When Elliott did manage to break the lines with his passing, it was when he ended up coming into a much more central area.
Even more interesting/mind boggling was when Darwin Núñez was brought on in place of Harvey Elliott. I, along with most others, assumed that Gakpo would slide out left to let Darwin run through the middle. Instead, it was the Uruguayan who stayed out to the left, leaving Gakpo through the middle. As of now, it seems that Klopp and co truly feel that Gakpo is the best fit for the central striker role, even shunting other players into less favorable spots to suit that belief. This may all pan out in the end, but I am struggling to see it as of now.
What Happens Next
That’s it for the domestic cups this year as reigning champions Liverpool have been knocked out of both the EFL Cup and now the FA Cup. At least there won’t be a midweek replay? The Reds will be back in action as they return to Premier League play next Saturday away to Wolves.