Salah strike keeps up Klopp’s perfect start
Few will be surprised Liverpool have emerged as this season’s Premier League pacesetters. Less predictable is how they have gone about their business to take an early lead at the top.
This was not the swashbuckling Liverpool we have grown used to; Brighton defeated with a solitary Mohamed Salah goal and emerging with their reputation enhanced in defeat as much as victory over Manchester United last week.
When Salah ended a period of home dominance to score after 23 minutes another goal flurry looked likely. Instead, the visitors compelled Liverpool to show the qualities of resilience needed at Selhurst Park last Monday. The Kop may have lamented not seeing their front three as rampant as anticipated, but there was as much enthusiasm for the fortitude of the back four and goalkeeper Alisson.
The Brazilian’s 88th minute save to deny Pascal Gross a reward for Brighton’s excellent second half was received like he was the incarnation of Ray Clemence that Liverpool have been waiting two decades for.
Everything the new No 1 does prompts hearty enthusiasm, even when he is flicking the ball over Anthony Knockaert’s head or delaying a pass long enough to invite a cavalry charge to Liverpool’s six-yard box.
Loris Karius, the man he replaced, may have heard the cries of appreciation from Merseyside as he landed in Istanbul to complete his two-year loan move to Besiktas. It is a fine line between exuding confidence and being too relaxed, but the £65million man is the right side of it for now.
“Not too cool for a manager,” said Klopp on some of Alisson’s riskier playmaking. “But when it works it is cool. I had a few centre-halves who did things a centre-half should not do, like Mats Hummels. It is all OK. He did it to sort the situation. He will get more confident. I like the save more than his chip, but in that situation it was the right thing to do. He had to make a big save. Good for him and for us – 1-0 is not a result we have not had very often.”
The fact Alisson and a defensivemidfielder, Gini Wijnaldum, were Liverpool’s standout players shows how much Brighton improved, Klopp suggesting his players lost their “patience and mindset” in the second half.
Victory was preserved with Alisson becoming only the fourth Liverpool keeper ever to keep a clean sheet in his first three games for the club. It is a welcome change for the manager to hear about a keeper rewriting history rather than his goalscorers. Not that Salah could be contained. It was a Liverpool home game. Of course, the Egyptian scored. As is so often the case against Klopp’s side, opponents can be most vulnerable when in possession in their own half.
Yves Bissouma, making his first start, was given a pass that ought to be accompanied by an emergency siren. It was a signal for Liverpool’s midfielders to advance. James Milner led the charge and within 15 seconds Brighton were behind.
Milner prodded to Sadio Mane, he touched on to Roberto Firmino, who picked out Salah for a perfectly executed first-time shot beyond Mathew Ryan. It had been coming. Initially, Brighton were conservative, victory over Manchester United a week ago not preventing changes to Chris Hughton’s line-up.
Industrious striker Glenn Murray was almost the catalyst for an equaliser just after the break, muscling his way past Joe Gomez and finding Knockaert in the penalty area but the Frenchman lacked the composure to take advantage and struck wide.
Martin Montoya’s cross for Gross’s header was more threatening, Alisson underlining his value. “I am proud how the team played especially after giving away a poor goal,” said Hughton. “From that moment you can either go in your shell or go on. We gave ourselves the best possible opportunity. Although they had a lot of possession and could have put a second or third away, in the end we could have scored.”
Klopp will not welcome his side temporarily losing control when Brighton released the shackles but he will embrace his team’s evolving character.
Too often during Klopp’s reign, Liverpool’s most difficult periods led to a concession, usually at least one goal, occasionally a point or even three.
Even this soon in a campaign – with Liverpool’s manager suggesting it is “not a particularly interesting time to be top” – it felt there was more than a win at stake. Psychologically, Liverpool needed to justify their billing with this kind of start.
No one is more reluctant to presume Liverpool are engaged in a head-tohead with Manchester City than Klopp, but with the champions dropping points, there was the scent of opportunity. It bodes well for Liverpool they have kicked off the campaign winning the games they often threw away. It will make them feel even better when they start winning in the style they are used to.
Liverpool (4-3-3) Alisson 8; Alexander-Arnold 7 (Matip 89), Gomez 6, Van Dijk 6, Robertson 6; Milner 7, Wijnaldum 8, Keita 7 (Henderson 67); Salah 7, Firmino 7; Mane 5 (Sturridge 80). Subs Mignolet (g), Moreno, Lallana, Shaqiri. Booked Alexander-Arnold. Brighton (4-5-1) Ryan 7; Montoya 7, Duffy 7, Balogun 7, Bong 7; Knockaert 6 (Jahanbakhsh 76), Propper 6, Stephens 6, Bissouma 6 (Gross 80), March 6 (Locadia 75); Murray 7. Subs Button (g), Kayal, Suttner, Bernardo. Booked Balogun. Referee Chris Kavanagh (Lancashire).
Salah salute: Liverpool’s Egyptian star celebrates scoring the goal that beat Brighton