The Guardian-Andy Hunter
Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri and Brighton’s Ben White compete for the ball. Photograph: Phil Noble/EPA
The need to defeat Manchester City on Sunday has become more pressing for Liverpool. There will be no title defence unless Jürgen Klopp’s team rediscover their way at Anfield, and fast.
Just when it seemed the Premier League champions had reinvigorated their campaign with successive away wins at Tottenham and West Ham, they succumbed to a second consecutive home defeat as Brighton executed their gameplan to perfection to record a first league win over Liverpool since 1982.
“Mentally fatigued,” was Klopp’s explanation. The same could be said of their legs. Creatively and clinically, Liverpool were found wanting again as they failed to score in a third successive home league game for the first time since October 1984. They rarely looked like doing so either as Brighton, defensively superb and dangerous whenever they broke, remained composed en route to a merited victory.
Steven Alzate provided the winning goal courtesy of a huge strike of fortune, but the polished move behind it illustrated the confidence and style of Graham Potter’s improving side. “It was no accident,” said the proud Brighton manager. “We deserved the three points. It wasn’t like we parked the bus and nicked a 1-0 win. It was a performance of quality, courage and effort. I’m so proud of the players. It is a great result for everyone connected with the club.” The visitors were well worth a fourth consecutive Premier League clean sheet. Adam Webster, Lewis Dunk and Solly March were outstanding, although a potentially serious injury to March was the one downside on Potter’s night.
That said, their run of clean sheets could have ended inside three minutes when Mohamed Salah was presented with a glorious chance to score his fifth goal in four games by Jordan Henderson. Liverpool’s captain, starting once again alongside Nat Phillips in central defence, floated a perfect pass from the halfway line into Salah’s run behind Webster. The Egypt international controlled well but scuffed his second touch high over the bar with only the Brighton goalkeeper, Robert Sánchez, to beat. It was a rare opening for Liverpool, and lapse in concentration by Brighton, in a game that again tested the champions’ ability to break down a well-organised opponent committed to defending in numbers. The test was failed once more.
Sánchez did not have a save to make in the first half as Brighton’s three central defenders provided commanding protection against Liverpool crosses and eight, sometimes nine outfield players dropped deep whenever the home side had possession. That limited their efforts to hurt Liverpool with sharp, intelligent passing of their own, but it was effective when put into operation and the otherwise excellent Dan Burn spurned a fine opportunity to open the scoring when volleying over from close range after Neal Maupay had weaved his way into the Liverpool defence.
Brighton went closest again before the break when Pascal Gross whipped a first-time cross into the box and Maupay, arriving in space in front of Roberto Firmino, headed wastefully over. His sheepish reaction said it all. He had to do better.
Firmino and Xherdan Shaqiri were anonymous in the Liverpool attack and substituted, although were involved in an improved start to the second half by the hosts. Dunk was equal to Liverpool’s growing threat, however, making an excellent interception to prevent Andy Robertson’s cross finding Salah and then throwing himself in the way of Firmino’s follow-up.
The pressure was growing on the visitors yet not only were they unperturbed, they took the lead with a goal that combined flowing football with good fortune. Yves Bissouma was central to a switch of play from left to right that ended with a superb cross into the penalty area by March for Burn, lurking unmarked at the far post. The defender’s header back across goal forced Phillips to throw himself into a clearance that struck Leandro Trossard on the thigh, rebounded against Alzate and then looped beyond Caoimhín Kelleher – deputising for the ill Allison.
Brighton continued to defend superbly despite the disruption caused by March’s departure. Webster pinched the ball off Firmino’s toes as he shaped to convert Thiago’s chipped free-kick into the area, while Salah was inches away from finding the top corner from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross. An equaliser would have flattered Liverpool, however, and Kelleher was forced into fine saves to prevent Gross and Trossard sparing Brighton from a nervous finale.