Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 26 January 2020

'Outstandingly good' Virgil van Dijk sets up win against Brighton as Liverpool laud over Premier League

Klopp's leaders open up 11-point gap over Manchester City, although they will be without suspended goalkeeper Alisson for Merseyside derby

As is often the case at Anfield, it was about the past, the present and the future. Victory brought historical and current markers, but a worry for Wednesday. In the context of a tradition of terrific teams, there was a significance as Liverpool made it 31 league games unbeaten, equalling the club record set by Kenny Dalglish’s greatest side in 1988.

In the here and now, the pertinent number is 11: the size, in points, of Liverpool’s lead at the Premier League summit. Leicester City can reduce it on Sunday, but there is a psychological element to taking their advantage over Manchester City into double figures. Yet beating Brighton & Hove Albion came at a cost in the immediate future, with Alisson sent off and now suspended for the midweek Merseyside derby.

A 22nd win in 23 league games came in what might be termed trademark fashion, courtesy of the imperious Virgil van Dijk’s swift double. Since Jurgen Klopp brought in specialist set-piece coaches at the start of last season, Liverpool have scored 41 goals from dead-ball situations. Van Dijk’s two ensured it scarcely mattered that they were not at their most explosive or exhilarating.

Perhaps it was winning ugly; it certainly was not triumphing beautifully. But winning is an art and Liverpool have mastered it. “Result-wise it is an incredible period,” said Klopp. “The boys threw everything on the pitch. It's unbelievable how much they want to win. They made it a really special win.”

The downside came not from the display, but the dismissal of Alisson for handling Leandro Trossard’s lob while five yards outside his penalty area. His replacement, Adrian, made an inauspicious start, beaten by Lewis Dunk’s quickly-taken free kick before he had touched the ball. It was a controversial moment – Liverpool believed referee Martin Atkinson had not blown his whistle and Klopp said “for me, it’s not 100 per cent right,” – but a reward for an outstanding performance from the Brighton captain, who had defended defiantly and twice almost scored earlier.

Enterprising and progressive, Brighton impressed in most respects except their set-piece marking to explain why they have extended manager Graham Potter’s contract until 2025. But for Adrian’s fine save from Aaron Mooy’s stinging drive and his fumbling but eventually successful attempt to hold Pascal Gross’ header, they might have taken a first point at Anfield since 1982.

“There was a lot of quality to our play,” said Potter, who felt his striker Aaron Connolly had been fouled in the build-up to Liverpool’s opener. “We gave a really good account of ourselves and are disappointed we came away with nothing.”

They created a nervy ending but were left to rue an eventful few minutes. While Jordan Henderson reverted to his old, holding role to deputise for the injured Fabinho, and Klopp branded his captain “sensational,” the most significant selection was the return of Trent Alexander-Arnold. Liverpool had missed their rested right-back’s delivery from the flanks against Napoli. His set-piece expertise was twice apparent when Van Dijk rose above Adam Webster to head a free kick and outjumped Dunk to convert a corner, each in commanding fashion. “He is outstandingly good,” added Klopp.

They have become a potent double act: since the start of last season, no defender has more Premier League assists than Alexander-Arnold and none more goals than Van Dijk.

Their forwards could also have struck. “We had unbelievable chances,” rued Klopp, but Mat Ryan made two fine saves from Roberto Firmino, whose wait for a first Anfield goal of the season continues. Sadio Mane, the supplier on each occasion, was also thwarted by the Australian. If he was the game’s outstanding goalkeeper, Alisson’s exit means the attention now switches to Adrian.

Updated: November 30, 2019 10:26 PM

SHARE

SHARE