Liverpool returned to 2018/19 Premier League action without their unbeaten record, but a 1-0 win at Brighton – courtesy of a Mohamed Salah penalty – ensured their gap at the top of the table was back at seven points.
Defeat to Manchester City on January 3rd – they’re next in action on Monday – and a third-round FA Cup exit to Wolves meant Jurgen Klopp’s side had opened up 2019 without a victory.
However, despite struggling to make inroads against an organised Brighton outfit, they squeezed another important three points from a tight fixture thanks to Salah’s second-half penalty.
The Egyptian was their best attacker after the break and he was hauled down by Pascal Gross after slaloming into the box. He then emphatically dispatched the resulting penalty in the 50th minute for his 14th Premier League goal of the season, his 17th in all competitions.
A myriad of talking points arose from the game and here are three from a Liverpool perspective.
SALAH STEPPED UP
Mohamed Salah breaking the deadlock with a penalty won by himself. 💉 pic.twitter.com/qlH343gHXp— . (@VintageSalah) January 12, 2019
There’s no points for style, but there was three of them for persistence.
From eight games in December, eight Liverpool victories arrived alongside 23 goals scored and just three conceded. Klopp’s men tore through the final month of 2018 and they did so with a throwback to the attacking vivacity displayed last season.
But having opened up the New Year by losing to City and then Wolves in the Cup, it was a return to the more restrained and efficient Liverpool with which this title bid has been founded upon.
An injury crisis at the back is perhaps a mitigating circumstance as Fabinho’s versatile qualities meant he was forced to add centre-back to his list of fluid positioning.
When Trent Alexander-Arnold almost added to the injury list after rolling his ankle in the warm-up – the full-back did recover to take his place in the XI – it made sense for the Reds to be more methodical.
For that, the onus was on the attack. Indeed, this was a fixture Klopp needed his forward players to really step up and the German found just the man in Salah.
Granted, he was quiet in the first half but after the interval, he was brilliant. It seemed the lights had come up and throughout the second-half Salah was his usual dashings of sharp, cute and quick-witted football.
Those hallmarks were displayed in microcosm with his penalty reward. Salah darted into the right side of the box, turned his man, waited for contact and was dragged down by Pascal Gross to earn the opportunity to score from 12 yards, doing so emphatically.
It was his 14th league goal this term and from then on, he was Liverpool’s source of inspiration, dropping deep to quick-start attacking transitions and then bursting forward to try and finish them off.
He should have had a second when missing a clear chance as the ball was squared to him late on, but his job was already done.
The career of Jordan Henderson at Liverpool reads like this: credit against the elite sides, criticism versus lesser opponents.
It’s easy to see why the England international is a favourite of Klopp’s when you consider his efficiency in possession, positioning and knack for an interception.
However, those skills are far more useful against much more adventurous sides and when tasked with playing in a midfield two alongside Georginio Wijnaldum at Brighton, the captain was pretty poor.
He overhit passes and didn’t really look for options beyond the simple, even with dangerous passing lanes open to him had he been able to shift his body into position.
Brighton were well disciplined and it required a bit of guile to knock them out of their shape.
Henderson doesn’t offer that. To his credit, when Liverpool switched into a 4-3-3, he was better, positioned higher up the pitch and attempting for more incisive passes. In a midfield two against a deep defensive block, he’s infuriating to watch, though.
KLOPP EMBRACING THE GRIND
No part of this victory was particularly impressive but Klopp will not care one jot when another three points are added to the tally.
The German was ecstatic with his side’s narrow 1-0 win and he ought to be with the pressure now swinging back on City who host Wolves on Monday night.
It’s often said of title-winning teams that embracing the grind is the most important trait to attain.
Liverpool have certainly acquired it this season and just as the Reds looked to be heading into a testing period with injuries and defeats piling up, they remained in the position which matters most – the lead.
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