Five things we learned as Salah eases Liverpool past Brighton

Brighton 0-1 Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp’s side recovered from back-to-back defeats to maintain a minimum four point lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Liverpool lagged some way short of the lofty standards set in their pre-Christmas performances, but Jurgen Klopp cut a relieved figure nevertheless as his side recovered from back-to-back defeats – against Manchester City and Wolves in the FA Cup – to see of a valiant Brighton 1-0.

A slow first half saw the Reds dominate possession but lack all varieties of final ball until, after being geed-up by Klopp during the break, Mohamed Salah meandered into the box seven minutes into the second half and was clearly and clumsily brought down by Pascal Gross. The Egyptian converted from the spot and Liverpool saw out the victory in a comfortable fashion to maintain their four point lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Liverpool slightly sluggish, but far from shellshocked
Liverpool’s awakening defeat to Manchester city a fortnight ago knocked them from an anvil-like perch and gave a more wooden plank feel to the title race. Add to that their shock FA Cup defeat to Wolves last weekend, and the sense that this was no longer a league to be runaway with, instead one which could teeter either way, jaunt from side-to-side and be swept by the currents of momentum became a prevalent reality.

The question was how Liverpool would react against a Brighton side notoriously difficult to break down, who did at times in this game threaten and find space on the breakaway. Would there be an angst that wasn’t there during the festive juggernaut? A susceptibility at the back having been breached in consecutive games?

Make no mistake, this was far from Liverpool at their brilliant best. At times, Glenn Murray and Jurgen Locadia found space they shouldn’t have been able to borrow in the Reds’ box, nor did Klopp’s side attack with the same devastating pace and predatory end. There was a perceptible sluggishness, a hangover from defeat, but Liverpool still never for a second seemed like losing. The winner may not have come so efficiently, but it always felt inevitable.

Sensibility saves lives, and league matches
As we have already witnessed this season, Mohamed Salah can be blown over in the box by a faulty air-conditioning unit and left heaped in the area by an errant spitball. You do not have to live in the mind of a Premier League supremo to realise that the little Egyptian must be treated like a box of Baccarat glass when in the 18-yard box.

Yet as Liverpool emerged sharper for the second-half and Salah wriggled into the box off his favoured right flank, Pascal Gross decided to play tug-of-war with the shirt of Liverpool’s star. Repeatedly, he yanked at the jersey in plain-sight as though trying to control a retriever lurching on its lead and inevitably Salah fell to the floor as though his life were under threat. After arising in full-health, he rattled the penalty home and with that the match already felt over, the aura at the Amex already empty, all from a fleeting moment of utter carelessness.

Fabinho’s enforcing is better served in the centre of the pitch
It was only a few short months ago that Fabinho was written off as feckless, shy, too tentative for the bluster of the Premier League. For games on end he was left out of the squad, out of the side, as Jurgen Klopp insisted the 25-year-old needed time to settle.

Yet, in recent weeks, the limber Brazilian has established himself as the fulcrum of Liverpool’s midfield, a deep-lying playmaker disguised as a hardy enforcer. So convincing has he been that here Klopp opted to drop Fabinho back into the centre of defence rather than rushing the recovery of Joel Matip.

However, Fabinho did look somewhat unsettled against Brighton’s always rough and ready Glen Murray, and almost came unstuck on a couple of occasions. Today, it didn’t cost Liverpool, but against a more imaginative offence such a weakness may well have been exploited.

Free-spirited without risk, Xherdan Shaqiri is tailored to these games
Possession in spades, space in droves, open games needing a lock to be picked are born for the diminutive Swiss playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri. Drifting with the wind from his ostensibly No 10 role, lingering in the half-spaces, a left-peg hanging tentatively in the air, Shaqiri was the conductor to this mid-tempo concerto.

He may, admittedly, be cumbersome in defence – a liberty that couldn’t be afford in Liverpool’s 5-1 thrashing of Arsenal – but in games such as these there are few players better in the Premier League more suited to unpicking an opponents defence than Shaqiri who only makes that £13m price-tag look ever more ridiculous.

Brighton need a plan B to progress in the long-term
Ten points clear of the relegation zone, Brighton are comfortably perched on their plush mid-table cushion. Little to worry about, yet little to aim for with a European spot already long out of reach. But in the long-term, for there to a be tangible progression for the South coast side, there must at some point be a plan B.

Glen Murray is rugged, effective and often clinical, but in a match such as today’s the Seagulls so desperately craved a type of speedy and incisive forward who could at least provide some reason for the Reds to stay war and offer cause for second thought before hurtling all eleven men forward.