Read the newspapers, browse the internet or catch up on the weekend’s Premier League action on television and you could be forgiven for thinking that Brighton did not play in game week 10.
That’s because all the headlines coming out of the Amex Stadium following the 1-1 draw between the Seagulls and Liverpool focused on the rantings and ravings of the visitors.
Jurgen Klopp’s extraordinary exchange with BT Sport’s Des Kelly was the main attraction as the two men had a back-and-forth about the fixture scheduling, which had seen the Reds play on Wednesday night against Atalanta in the Champions League followed by a lunchtime kick off in the league days later.
Jordan Henderson used his post match interview to state that VAR should be scrapped and James Milner took to Twitter to say that a debate was needed about technology as it was causing people to fall out of love with the game. Funnily enough, nobody could remember Henderson or Milner undertaking passionate campaigns to put a stop to VAR when it was awarding Mohamed Salah a penalty against West Ham United in October, or when the Reds were in the unstoppable form that saw them crowned champions last season.
Technology only appears to be a bad thing when it has a negative impact on your results.
Henderson and Milner would not have thrown post match hissy fits about VAR if Liverpool been victorious at the Amex. Klopp’s rant may have still taken place – he had voiced his concerns over the schedule in the lead up to the Brighton game – but it would surely not have been so forceful or led to a full blown argument with a journalist.
Kelly, for his part, was excellent in pointing out that Klopp’s complaints would be better directed to Liverpool’s executives and the Premier League, who sell these television slots in exchange for the hundreds of millions of pounds. That money pays Klopp’s wages and allows him to buy the best players in the world.
So, forget VAR or Premier League scheduling – the real catalyst for Liverpool’s meltdown was Brighton – something which very few people seem to be acknowledging or giving the Seagulls credit for. Graham Potter’s team were superb against the champions, and Klopp and his players must know that they were lucky to escape Sussex with a point. It was the Reds’ frustrations about this which ultimately led to the post match tantrums.
Potter was bold in his team selection, naming three strikers in his starting line up for the first time this season. Given the Brighton boss had gone into home games with West Bromwich Albion and Burnley with four centre backs on the pitch, this attacking outlook for the visit of the champions raised more than a few eyebrows. The thinking appeared to be that Liverpool were coming to the Amex minus Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold, so why not go on the attack against a makeshift defence?
It was a plan which worked to near-perfection in the first half – had Brighton not passed up two gilt-edged opportunities then it would have been been perfect. The Seagulls’ inability to take their chances has been well documented throughout the 2020/21 season, and on this occasion it was Aaron Connolly, who spurned a glorious one-on-one, and Neal Maupay taking a terrible penalty.
Connolly caused so many problems running in behind the Liverpool defence that Klopp felt moved to substitute Neco Williams at half time. There must be something about the sea air that impacts on the highly rated young full back; he was also withdrawn at the break at the Amex last season because of the torrid time that Tariq Lamptey was inflicting. Lamptey was missing on this occasion through suspension, making Brighton’s performance all the more impressive given they were without their best player.
Although Liverpool dealt better with Brighton in the second half, the Seagulls still had their chances. Danny Welbeck forced Alisson into a smart save and it was Welbeck who won the 94th minute spot kick when Andy Robertson kicked his foot, allowing Pascal Gross to demonstrate the ice-cold penalty taking nerves which Germans are born with to convert from 12 yards.
It was the least that Brighton deserved on an afternoon when they caused the champions a real headache. Had Brighton been more clinical in the first half, then they would have left with all three points – the story of the Seagulls’ season so far.
Klopp and Jamie Carragher meanwhile said that VAR got everything right, further strengthening the feeling that this was a game the hosts really should have won.
This is not the first time that Brighton have gone toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country this season. September’s home game against Manchester United saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side relying on a 97th minute penalty awarded by VAR after the final whistle had been blown to win 3-2. Brighton could count themselves unfortunate to go down 3-1 at home to Chelsea in a game in which they dominated possession, only to be undone by a penalty and a heavy deflection. They also gave a good account of themselves when losing 2-1 at Tottenham Hotspur.
Potter has built a capable squad playing good footballer who, on their day, can compete with the best sides in the Premier League. If Brighton improve their conversion rate, they will be some team. Liverpool found that out at the Amex, which is why Klopp, Henderson and Milner were so rattled. The Seagulls deserve credit for that.