02 December 2017

Liverpool 5-1 Brighton

Can 30'
Firmino 31' 48'
Murray 51' [pen]
Coutinho 87'
Dunk OG 89'

3-0 Huddersfield, 3-0 Maribor, 4-1 West Ham, 3-0 Southampton, 3-0 Stoke, 5-1 Brighton. Patience, then potency. Set play, then counter then counter – which was also the 2013-14 Liverpool mantra – then set play then counter. No matter Brighton's completely nonsense consolation. And, no matter how often Liverpool get goals, it's the first time Liverpool have scored five in the league in more than a year.

Same again, then.

Not quite.

First and foremost, what the hell was that formation. Sure, Matip's injured, Gomez is ill, and Klavan hasn't trained because of illness. So, sure, let's go with 3-4-3. With Can and Wijnaldum as the wide "center-backs."

Liverpool's commitment to banter remains undefeated.

I mean, in theory, it makes some sense. You ain't really got a partner for Lovren. Brighton's gonna have next to no possession, not until Liverpool scores at least, so you might as well put two quick players who can pass there, with the potential for forward runs when Brighton get really, really deep.

But, then again, you played Wijnaldum and Can as center-backs.

And, early on, it went about as well as you'd expect. Liverpool had a couple of set play chances, with Firmino missing a free header from a corner in the fourth minute, but Liverpool also struggled to find space. Liverpool struggled to connect in a formation and XI that might have seen one session on the training pitch. And Brighton had the best chance in the first 29 minutes, with Brown getting a low cross in from the right on the counter, around Alexander-Arnold, behind Lovren, and to Glenn Murray, but Wijnaldum did *just enough* to force him into a close-range shot over the bar.

Liverpool possession, few Liverpool chances. One terrifying moment in defense.

Sounds about right.

And then Liverpool scored. And then Liverpool scored again.

Emre Can nails a header from Liverpool's second corner, exactly the type of bullet you'd want from your center-back. Barely a minute later, a textbook Liverpool counter-attack. Brighton kick-off, a hoof deep. Can's easy clearing header to Lovren to Firmino holding up at the halfway line, laid off to Salah with space to run. Around one, then a charge at terrified defenders, picking out Coutinho, a first-time low cross to Firmino. Boof. 18 seconds from kick-off to goal. A minute and 19 seconds from goal to kickoff to goal.

So, yeah, Liverpool can stutter through the first half in an unfamiliar formation, with tons of possession and hardly any shots, when Liverpool can be that potent twice in two minutes.

Lock down for the rest of the half, with a similar pattern of play to the first 30 minutes, but thankfully without any Brighton attacking. Which is completely fine with a 2-0 lead with this lineup.

Liverpool had done good things in first halves against Sevilla, Chelsea, and Stoke. And all three of those sides responded, to varying degrees, in the second half. What would Brighton do?

Nearly score within three minutes of the restart.

Brighton has more possession, needing to get back into the game with Liverpool happy to try to draw them out. Brown again finds space against Alexander-Arnold, taking advantage of the full-back's uncertain positioning. And the cross is perfect. And Glenn Murray's on the absolute door step. And he hits it really well. Not perfectly, but really well, controlled and low, making it truly hard for the keeper to get down.

And Simon Mignolet somehow saves it with his trailing leg. And Liverpool immediately blitzkrieg down the pitch and score again. Lovren hoof, Coutinho headed flick-on, Firmino lay-off to Coutinho, through to Salah, who zoom zoom zooms at goal, drawing two defenders away from Firmino, finding him with the reverse ball that's thumped into the net. 15 seconds from save to goal.

Good lord, that front three. It actually feels unfair sometimes.

So, now 3-0, with about the hardest stomach punch Brighton could suffer. That's that, then.

Come on. Act like you've been here before.

Brighton get a goal back within three minutes. For no damned reason. It's a Brighton corner. Brighton's first! Yes, we hate corners. But Firmino clears it! But Graham Scott, who's in his first season as a Premier League referee by the way, points to the spot for a Henderson push on Shane Duffy.

Jordan Henderson did not push Shane Duffy. Maybe it looks like that when your positioning is very, very bad, but that's not really an excuse. Henderson has a hand on Duffy's back. Duffy then jumps. Duffy then swan dives. Whistle. Spot kick. Goal.

If you're calling that, you're calling the same number of penalties as there are corners in the match. It's the most make-up of make-ups calls and you're not even making up for anything. You're just an inexperienced referee who actually feels bad for the stomach punch the home team just suffered.

And now Liverpool have license to fall apart.

But Liverpool don't fall apart! Brighton have too much possession, which makes us crazy because we have been here before, but Brighton are limited to two low-value set play chances which don't come close to threatening for the next half-hour. And Liverpool have better chances to extend the lead: Salah shooting straight at Ryan on the counter; Coutinho's shot that's absolutely going in blocked by Dunk's arm, more a penalty than Brighton's penalty; then Coutinho unnecessarily offside on another potential counter.

Brighton make subs, taking off both Knockaert and Brown. Liverpool finally make subs, replacing Salah with Oxlade-Chamberlain. Brighton's got one more chance, because we really are never allowed to feel safe, but Alexander-Arnold gets a bit of redemption in blocking Izquierdo's goal-bound effort (which Mignolet's maybe possibly saving) after the substitute sprinted away from Henderson far too easily.

And instead of the game petering out, Liverpool add two more through the absolute, indescribable, incomparable brilliance of Philippe Coutinho. First a free-kick replica of his goal against West Ham in the 2015-16 FA Cup: giving the wall the eyes, coaxing them into jumping as he places his shot under them. Then another Tasmanian Devil dribble dash at retreating targets, a probably-off-target shot on the run that's headed in by Lewis Dunk. Still might be one for the dubious goals panel.

Let's quickly recap Coutinho's day. Two assists, then a hockey assist. A free kick goal then single-handedly forcing an own goal. 5/6 successful dribbles, which felt like twice as many as that, just mindbogglingly good with the ball at his feet today. He's too good for words sometimes.

He wasn't the only one. Not in that front three. I can almost be as effusive about Firmino, while Salah still dominating the game without scoring thanks to his runs on those two counters.

Five goals. A nonsense XI. A nonsense penalty. Liverpool at their most potent. Liverpool 3-0 up against a promoted side and still somehow causing us palpitations.

Madness. Absolute madness. As if we've come to expect any less.

First, never play that XI again. At least not in that formation. A better attacking side punishes Liverpool. Probably repeatedly. Wijnaldum – and I feel bad for him – truly and unsurprisingly struggled in the position, unsure where to play out from that deep, unable to turn onto his left if and go up the flank if under any semblance of pressure. Playing Alexander-Arnold at wing-back makes him more capable in attack, but much more frightening in defense – the side of the game he's not as strong at. Similar, to a lesser extent, goes for Robertson.

But Liverpool probably don't play that XI or formation against a better side so *shrugs*. Horses for courses, after all.

Second, I truly appreciate when Liverpool's attack more than makes up for Liverpool's defense. Liverpool scored five goals, could have had three or so more. Mohamed Salah didn't have score any of them and Sadio Mané never made it off the bench.

This team is madness, for better and for worse. We've seen more better than worse lately, and fair bit of it. 25 Liverpool goals in Liverpool's last eight matches, with just six conceded: three in the aberration at Sevilla and West Ham's one, but also Chelsea's fluke and Brighton's that-was-never-a-penalty-I-will-never-forgive-you. With Liverpool rotating heavily in the last three matches, both due to injury and illness, but also to protect players and keep fresh legs with all these matches over this month.

It's gonna continue to be madness. Enjoy the ride.


TralfZog said...

It was good to read, congrats!

Anonymous said...

Great write-up! The pre-Wednesday palpitations have already begun.