12 May 2018

Liverpool v Brighton 05.13.18

10am ET, live in the US on NBC

Last four head-to-head:
5-1 Liverpool (a) 12.02.17
6-1 Liverpool (h; FA Cup) 02.19.12
1-2 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 10.21.11
3-2 Liverpool (a; FA Cup) 01.03.91

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Chelsea (a); 2-4 Roma (a); 0-0 Stoke (h); 5-2 Roma (h)
Brighton: 1-3 City (a); 1-0 United (h); 0-0 Burnley (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 31; Firmino 15; Mané 10; Coutinho 7; Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Ings, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Brighton: Murray 12; Groß 7; Izquierdo 5; Knockaert 3; Hemed 2; Dunk, Locadia, March, Ulloa 1

Referee: Kevin Friend (LFCHistory) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Lovren van Dijk Robertson
Wijnaldum Henderson Milner
Salah Firmino Ings

Still stumbling face-first toward the finish. We're on big NBC in the USA tomorrow because this is the match that decides the top four. If Liverpool lose, Liverpool probably won't finish in the Champions League places, then needing Chelsea to also drop points at Newcastle.

But Liverpool also just need a draw. Because Chelsea dropped points in their last match, at home to Huddersfield just three days after beating Liverpool. At least we're both stumbling face-first toward the finish.

Just be good enough, Liverpool.

You'd think a week's respite would be a good thing. And it probably has been! Absolutely everyone needed the recovery time. But rather than "okay, folks are getting better," we're getting less enjoyable injury news, with Sadio Mané now struggling with a problem picked up in the last match.

So. Yikes. I don't need to remind anyone how Liverpool have looked when you remove one of the fantastic front three.

Otherwise, the line-up writes itself. As per usual. Lallana should at least make the bench, which means we can almost pretend at some attacking depth. But with a week since the last match and almost two before the Champions League final, I doubt we'll see any defensive rotation. There are no other midfielders to rotate. You want to keep the front three as front three as possible.

Maybe we get Woodburn instead of Ings. Or Solanke. Or maybe it'll be 4-4-2 or 3-5-2. It's not as if Liverpool aren't used to duct-taping a line-up together to face Brighton. The reverse fixture saw Liverpool go 3-4-3 without most of the fit central defenders, with both Emre Can and Wijnaldum used at center-back. And Liverpool, somehow, still won 5-1, even if lucky to do so by that margin.

I wouldn't say no to 5-1 tomorrow. It ain't gonna be that easy though. Not with the form Liverpool have been in, at least in the league.

With a win, Brighton could finish as high as tenth, currently a point behind Watford, Bournemouth, Palace, and Newcastle. With a loss, they'd finish no lower than 15th. They're safe, six points clear of what will probably be the relegation zone mark, which every single Brighton player, coach, employee, and supporter would've taken before the season started.

It's not 'nothing to play for,' but Brighton's destiny is done. All but safe for a few weeks now, confirmed safe with a win at Manchester United last week. And Brighton have been diligent over the last month in securing safety. There looked a potentially destabilizing loss, 3-2 at their peers in Crystal Palace, but three draws in April were just about enough. 1-1 v Huddersfield, fine. 0-0 at Burnley, good enough. 1-1 v Tottenham, fairly impressive, and a little helpful for Liverpool.

And then that United match. Brighton, the better side before taking the lead, with De Gea required to stop the usual few efforts. United, blunt and unthreatening without both Lukaku and Alexis, not even requiring any heroics from Mat Ryan.

That marked United's third away loss in three matches against the promoted sides. Liverpool's home record against the same sides is fine, 2-0 over Newcastle and 3-0 over Huddersfield, nothing fancy but comfortable and comprehensive. Liverpool's home record is fine in general – too many draws, which is the story of the campaign – but also the only side in the division unbeaten, with only United conceding fewer goals.

The last month has shown Brighton's stinginess, with just two goals conceded in the four matches which will keep them division. But there's also the three conceded at Palace, in a match where Brighton needed to go for it. There's also the three conceded at Manchester City three days ago. There's also the fact that Brighton have the second-worst away record in the division, with two wins (last week's at United and 1-0 at Swansea way back in November), five draws, and 11 losses.

Tomorrow's side will probably be very similar to that against City. The only likely change is Glenn Murray for Leonardo Ulloa up front. Ryan; Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Bong; Knockaert, Stephans, Propper, Izquierdo; Groß, Murray. Ryan has been one of the best keepers in the league this season. Murray was quite good when these sides last spoke. Groß scored those crucial goals against both United and Tottenham.

So here we are. After all the drama of the last month. All the drama of the season in full. Liverpool just need a draw to secure a place in next season's Champions League.

Chris Hughton's never beaten Liverpool. Never drawn with Liverpool. Never prevented Liverpool from scoring five goals: 5-2, 5-1, and 5-0 losses while in charge of Norwich, and a 5-1 loss at Brighton a few months ago.

Liverpool know what they need to do. What they need to focus on before attention turns to Kiev. Stumble all you want, as long as you finish as you need to finish.

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