Three points forward; once more a three-point gap. And on goes the world’s premier staring contest. Blinking is strictly prohibited. With focus narrowed on Mohamed Salah after his agent, Ramy Abbas Issa, responded to Jürgen Klopp’s comments about a contract extension with seven laughing emojis, the Egyptian did not take his eye off the ball. His emphatic second-half penalty, thumped down the middle in front of the travelling fans, sealed Liverpool’s eighth straight league win.
Luis Díaz once again showed why, should the worst happen, life can go on. To say he has hit the ground running is like describing Usain Bolt as a jogger. On his first league start away from Anfield he flicked, kicked, twisted and spun to the ground. Each time he got up and cracked on, including thankfully after nodding Liverpool into the lead before being flattened by Robert Sánchez.
“The ‘boy’ has settled as quickly as the ‘player’,” said Klopp, pleased with victory in a “difficult game against a difficult opponent”.
With Liverpool competing for multiple trophies, Klopp is having to manage his side like a rotisserie, turning his squad carefully to ensure just the right level of “done”. Into the lineup came the February player of the month, Joël Matip. The centre-back made one of his trademark forays forward before releasing Díaz, who reached the ball before the advancing Sánchez.
The forward was on the scoresheet but also on the floor; the celebrations were initially muted, a red card mooted. VAR decided against it and while Klopp was sanguine about the decision in the game’s context, he suggested a wider issue: “Everybody asked me whether it was a red card and you know if you get these questions most people think it was a red card.
“If everybody thinks it was a red card for what reason could it not be a red card on VAR looking at it? There’s only one reason – ‘clear and obvious’. The phrase is a real problem from our point of view.
“It is wrong or right. It must not be clear and obviously wrong or right, just wrong or right. That’s enough. Nobody should feel [like] overturning – if the VAR is part of the team of the refs and not somebody from outside – might embarrass the ref on the pitch.”
Luis Díaz collides with Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sánchez as he heads home the opening goal for Liverpool. Photograph: Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Getty Images
After the opening goal Liverpool shifted from slumber to virtual autopilot. When Naby Keïta fired against Yves Bissouma’s outstretched hand just past the hour, Salah was able to net his 20th goal of the season in the league.
Brighton are demob unhappy. They are neither upwardly or downwardly mobile this season and this was their fifth consecutive defeat. With one victory in 11, home is offering little comfort.
“It’s not easy to have perspective or zoom out when you are suffering,” said their manager, Graham Potter. “The boys gave everything; it’s just the opponent was better.”
Before falling behind they buzzed around in the yellow and blue strip they wore to show solidarity with Ukraine. They showed plenty of bravery, resulting in the rare sight of Fabinho looking slightly exposed by the neat triangles around him.
They perked up again in the second half with Leandro Trossard blazing over soon after the break. Then came the sad sight of Adam Lallana limping off against his former club five minutes after being introduced. But despite some late home pressure, Alisson’s clean sheet looked in danger only when he tipped acrobatically over from Danny Welbeck.
For Potter, a past problem that had seemingly been resolved has reared its head again: possession offers little if not accompanied by goals. With one in five games those have dried up.
Next for Liverpool comes their game in hand: a trip to Arsenal, who have replaced their soft underbelly with snarl and bite. But greatness will not be thrust upon Klopp’s men; they must achieve it.