‘Out­stand­ingly good’ Van Dijk keeps Liver­pool out in front

The National - News - - SPORT FOOTBALL - RICHARD JOLLY

As is of­ten the case at An­field, it was about the past, the present and the fu­ture.

Vic­tory brought historical and current mark­ers, but a worry for Wed­nes­day. In the con­text of a tra­di­tion of ter­rific teams, there was a sig­nif­i­cance as Liver­pool made it 31 league games un­beaten, equalling the club record set by Kenny Dal­glish’s greatest side in 1988.

In the here and now, the per­ti­nent num­ber is 11: the size, in points, of Liver­pool’s lead at the Premier League sum­mit.

Le­ices­ter City can re­duce it to­day, but there is a psy­cho­log­i­cal el­e­ment to tak­ing their ad­van­tage over Manch­ester City into dou­ble fig­ures. Yet beat­ing Brighton and Hove Al­bion came at a cost in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture, with Alis­son sent off and now sus­pended for the mid­week Mersey­side derby.

A 22nd win in 23 league games came in cour­tesy of the imperious Vir­gil van Dijk’s swift dou­ble.

Since Jur­gen Klopp brought in spe­cial­ist set-piece coaches at the start of last season, Liver­pool have scored 41 goals from dead-ball sit­u­a­tions.

Per­haps it was win­ning ugly; it cer­tainly was not tri­umph­ing beau­ti­fully. But win­ning is an art and Liver­pool have mas­tered it. “Re­sult-wise it is an in­cred­i­ble pe­riod,” Klopp said. “The boys threw ev­ery­thing on the pitch. It’s un­be­liev­able how much they want to win. They made it a re­ally spe­cial win.”

The down­side came from the dis­missal of Alis­son for han­dling Le­an­dro Trossard’s lob while five yards out­side his penalty area.

His re­place­ment, Adrian, made an in­aus­pi­cious start, beaten by Lewis Dunk’s quickly taken free kick be­fore he had touched the ball. It was a con­tro­ver­sial moment. Liver­pool be­lieved ref­eree Martin Atkin­son had not blown his whis­tle, and Klopp said “for me, it’s not 100 per cent right.”

En­ter­pris­ing and pro­gres­sive, Brighton im­pressed in most re­spects ex­cept their set­piece mark­ing to ex­plain why they have ex­tended man­ager

Gra­ham Pot­ter’s con­tract un­til 2025. But for Adrian’s fine save from Aaron Mooy’s sting­ing drive and his fum­bling but even­tu­ally suc­cess­ful at­tempt to hold Pas­cal Gross’ header, they might have taken a first point at An­field since 1982.

“There was a lot of qual­ity to our play,” said Pot­ter, who felt his striker Aaron Connolly had been fouled in the build-up to Liver­pool’s opener. “We gave a re­ally good ac­count of our­selves and are dis­ap­pointed we came away with noth­ing.”

While Jor­dan Hen­der­son re­verted to his old, hold­ing role to deputise for the in­jured Fabinho, and Klopp branded his cap­tain “sen­sa­tional,” the most sig­nif­i­cant in­clu­sion was Trent Alexan­der-Arnold af­ter be­ing rested against Napoli.

His set-piece ex­per­tise was twice ap­par­ent when Van Dijk rose above Adam Web­ster to head a free-kick and out­jumped Dunk to con­vert a cor­ner, each in com­mand­ing fash­ion. “He is out­stand­ingly good,” Klopp said.

They have be­come a po­tent dou­ble act: since the start of last season, no de­fender has more Premier League as­sists than Alexan­der-Arnold and none more goals than Van Dijk.

Their for­wards could also have struck. “We had un­be­liev­able chances,” rued Klopp, but Mat Ryan made two fine saves from Roberto Firmino, whose wait for a first An­field goal of the season continues.

Sa­dio Mane, the sup­plier on each oc­ca­sion, was also thwarted by the Aus­tralian.

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