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NICK SZCZEPANIK’S PRESS VERDICT: LIVERPOOL

13 January 2019

Paul Hazlewood
Nick Szczepanik's press verdict from the Liverpool game.
Saturday’s record attendance for the Liverpool game was matched by one of the biggest media turnouts in Albion history as the visit of the Premier League leaders brought some of the country’s top football writers to the Amex.
 
Most concentrated on Liverpool - either the performance of one-time Albion target Virgil van Dijk, or the penalty won and converted by Mohamed Salah. But there was also recognition that Albion had made it hard for Jurgen Klopp’s men to claim the three points.
 
“Brighton, under Chris Hughton’s meticulous management, can make themselves as difficult as any side in the Premier League to penetrate,” wrote Jonathan Northcroft, the
Football Correspondent of the Sunday Times. “Here, they were 4-5-1, compact, fit, aggressive, nearly always in their perfect lines and behind the ball.
 
“Their commitment to staying in formation was prodigious – seen when Jurgen Locadia broke clear, but was offside, and immediately Hughton sprinted out not to berate the officials but signal forward Glenn Murray back into a left midfield position to fill the hole Locadia vacated.” 
 
 
For Jack Pitt-Brooke in The Independent, “this was a classic title-chasing victory: away from home, narrow, nervy, never in total control, and reliant on a dollop of contingency to get them over the line. If Liverpool do win it then this will be singled out as one of the hinge moments.
 
“When the stumble could have continued, they could have dropped more points and let City make up another stride towards them. That was certainly how it felt in the first half, as Liverpool struggled to pick their way around the Brighton defence.
 
“Brighton dug in, their 4-5-1 immaculately arranged: the defence not too far from David Button in goal, the midfield not too far in front of them. There was no space in between the lines, and even less in behind the back four.
 
“So even though Liverpool had all four of their top forwards playing, the big three plus Xherdan Shaqiri, the only way in was down the sides.”
 
 
 
 Jake Polden, on the Mirror website, asked: “How do you stifle one of the best attacking clubs in world football right now? Ask Chris Hughton, apparently.
 
“The Seagulls manager instructed his side to be hard to break down and to take the sting out of Liverpool's attacking play on Saturday.
 
“And he managed that by setting his team up to close down intensely, prevent the Reds from having time on the ball, and by ensuring his players remained alert.
 
“Yes, Liverpool were slow to get the ball forward and lacked that energy that has seen them blow teams away in the past. But you can take nothing away from Brighton's defensive masterclass.”
 
 
 
In the Sunday Express, Jim Holden wrote: “Brighton’s strategy was certainly organised and effective in the opening period, closing down space ruthlessly in midfield to strangle the talents of Liverpool.
 
“It made the home side tough to pass through with the ball on the ground, while the Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk combination in central defence dealt formidably with any aerial threat. Seriously good play was required from the Premier League leaders.”
 
Most writers picked out some choice words from Reds manager Jurgen Klopp. “It wasn’t an opera of football, but it was a really nice song. We are not the Harlem Globetrotters, we are Liverpool and we have to win football games, and this was a massive game. Everyone knows how difficult it is against Brighton.”
 
There were various views of the penalty incident. Andy Dunn in the Sunday Mirror was more analytical than most. “He doesn’t do simulation, Salah, but he’s become wonderfully accomplished at accruing penalties,” he wrote.
 
“Salah seems to be perfecting that knack of getting the other side of a defender and, essentially, brake-testing his opponent.
 
“Scrambling back after being embarrassed by a wonderful footballer, the pursuer cannot avoid the tangle that ends with Salah on the deck.”
 
 
 
James Pearce in the Liverpool Echo offered a slightly less unbiased view of the game’s decisive moment: “Whatever was said at half-time did the trick as Liverpool flew out of the blocks after the break. Salah suddenly came to life.
 
“An exquisite turn enabled him to skip away from Pascal Gross, who senselessly brought him down inside the box.
 
“The German midfielder protested his innocence to referee Kevin Friend but replays showed it was a nailed on spot-kick. Salah picked himself up to hammer the penalty past Button.
 
“Bizarrely, the Egyptian attacker was booed for the rest of the game by the Brighton fans for having the temerity to be fouled and then to punish Gross' blunder. They should have just appreciated the fact that they had a genius in town.
 
“Once behind, Brighton had to ditch their game plan and show some ambition. Fabinho produced a fine block to thwart Gross' attempts to make amends.”
 
 
 
 
Oliver Holt in The Mail On Sunday was more accurate in his assessment of where Albion fans’ ire was directed. He wrote: “Van Dijk's command in the air and his composure on the floor was the foundation of Liverpool's win even though the Brighton fans preferred to give the credit to referee Kevin Friend for his award of the penalty and a perceived bias towards the league leaders. 'One-nil to the referee,' they sang towards the end but Liverpool didn't mind. The ship has been steadied.”
 
Jeremy Wilson, the Telegraph chief sports reporter, joined in the praise for van Dijk and Salah, but felt that Albion might have done more with the ball.
 
“Virgil van Dijk was a typically towering defensive presence and, in both winning the penalty and so emphatically converting the chance, Mohamed Salah continued his outstanding form,” he wrote.
 
“He ultimately made the difference in what Brighton manager Chris Hughton rightly analysed as a 90 minute match that hinged on a few select moments.
 
“This was a distinctly workmanlike Liverpool.
 
“There was an argument here that they were fortunate that Brighton did so prioritise their own defensive structure.
 
“Liverpool were hesitant early in the game and, while they certainly did begin the second-half with more urgency, Brighton might just have been rewarded for taking greater risks.
 
“That they ended the match without so much as a shot on goal was a consequence of their caution just as much as Liverpool’s ongoing defensive excellence.”
 
 
 
Paul Doyle, writing in The Observer, also noted Albion’s caution but let Klopp explain it.
 
“The onus was on Brighton to vary their approach and subject Liverpool’s defence to a more vigorous test, he wrote. “Hughton made a double substitution in the 65th minute in an effort to give his team more attacking impetus, though the hosts never committed fully to attack.
 
“With 20 minutes to go Jürgen Locadia cut in from the left to unload a 20-yard shot, possibly going wide, that Alisson pushed around the post. But that was as dangerous as Brighton got.
 
“’Brighton defended like they defended because they knew that one mistake from us and they were back in the game and not making a mistake is difficult,’ said Klopp.
 
“‘It was a big challenge for everybody to stay calm and concentrated because each little situation can be a massive threat on the counter or whatever.
 
“’And don’t make any fouls because Brighton is unbelievably strong on set pieces. That level of concentration is difficult to keep but we did it’.”
 
Luke Reddy on the BBC website wrote that Albion “had looked solid” until the penalty, adding: “Seagulls boss Chris Hughton faces a testing trip to Manchester United next but his side are three points better off than at this stage last season.
 
“The addition of some attacking quality would no doubt help their survival cause but their general organisation remains admirable and will be key in their fight to stay up.”

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