‘Outstandingly good’ Van Dijk keeps Liverpool out in front
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.