Salah brace not enough to seal win for Liverpool at Brighton

BRIGHTON & HOVE, England — Few of the top Premier League teams take all three points from their visits to Brighton & Hove Albion, especially after falling behind. But Jurgen Klopp’s new-look Liverpool team came close to avenging their 3-0 loss at the Amex Stadium last season, initially lifting themselves off the canvas after going a goal down, only to be pegged back to a 2-2 draw.

Liverpool — who have conceded the first goal in each of their past five away fixtures — looked like they needed to be shaken into life in the early stages. So it proved after Simon Adingra landed the opening blow in the 20th minute, and Liverpool were a team transformed. Mohamed Salah’s brace had the visitors ahead at half-time, only for Brighton captain Lewis Dunk to earn a share of the points for his side.

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All good teams are a reflection of their manager. Klopp has ascended into the rarified air of the Premier League’s elite off the back of an unremarkable professional playing career in Germany. On his journey to the top, Klopp’s ability to absorb setbacks and “attack the title” as he once put it rubbed off on his first great Liverpool team and it seems to be doing so again.

Similarly to Klopp’s influence on his team, Brighton head coach Roberto De Zerbi’s fingerprints can be found all over the Seagulls’ intricate passing moves and intense pressing. Brighton play their game with a razor-thin margin for error. It’s a tightrope walk that can dazzle but once it goes wrong — as it did when they were thrashed 6-1 by Aston Villa last weekend — the fall can be devastating.

As the first half wore on it felt as if Liverpool were lying in wait, patiently searching for the loose blue-and-white thread that, once pulled, would unravel Brighton and send them into the downward spiral from which they often struggle to recover. But unlike at Villa, this time De Zerbi’s side clawed their way out of the vortex to take a well-deserved point.

Brighton have been a bogey team for Klopp in recent years: Liverpool have registered just one win from their previous six Premier League clashes against them, drawing three and losing two. When asked postmatch if a draw had been a fair outcome, he admitted: “I think, unfortunately, yes … It’s a really good team and it’s difficult to defend [against] them all the time.” The intensity that the contest eventually built toward is a testament to both of these teams who, with differing enthusiasm, found themselves in Europa League action on Thursday. The European exertions of both teams, combined with unseasonably warm conditions, meant the game took some time to get going.

It wasn’t until Brighton’s latest star off the production line, Adingra — signed from FC Nordsjælland last year — snapped in front of a sleepy Alexis Mac Allister to intercept Virgil van Dijk’s pass in midfield that the contest was jolted awake. The Ivory Coast midfielder darted in front of Mac Allister — who endured a difficult return to the club he had left for Anfield in the summer — to win the ball high up the pitch before taking advantage of goalkeeper Alisson’s wayward positioning to roll the ball into the net from further out than he should have been allowed.

The momentum then swung totally behind Liverpool as they began to probe the Brighton back line for a weak point. Unexpectedly, that came in the form of Dunk who attempted to intercept in front of Luis Díaz in the same way that Adingra had earlier, but with the opposite effect. Diaz and Darwin Núñez combined to exploit the space Dunk had left, with Salah sweeping the ball into the corner with ease.

Salah doubled his tally six minutes later after another defensive error eventually resulted in Dominik Szoboszlai being hauled down by a desperate Pascal Gross in the box. The Brighton midfielder can perhaps count himself lucky that the VAR only recommended a penalty for his challenge and not also a red card for denying Szoboszlai what was a very good goal-scoring opportunity.

In an ironic twist after their now-infamous VAR travails last week at Tottenham Hotspur, Klopp and his team benefitted from the lack of involvement of VAR in the second half when a cross ricocheted up off Van Dijk’s thigh onto his arm. The decision left the Brighton fans howling in frustration and chanting “We want a replay,” in reference to Klopp’s comments midweek on Diaz’s disallowed goal at Spurs. It was a decision that De Zerbi felt “was a clear penalty.”

Substitute Ryan Gravenberch missed a golden chance to make it 3-1 shortly before Dunk diverted Solly March’s free kick beyond Alisson to bring Brighton level. If it was Liverpool’s resilience and mentality that put them in control of the game after their early setback, Brighton grabbing a share of the points was a reminder that they remain a team that every side in the Premier League should take seriously, no matter what bad results they have had this season or however many star players leave them.

Liverpool’s away form has slowed their progress of late but that should be tempered by the fact that difficult trips to Newcastle United, Tottenham and Brighton are already behind them this season.

De Zerbi’s team, by his own admission, are still getting used to the grind of Thursday-Sunday football and are on a difficult run of fixtures themselves. The Seagulls are midway through a run in which they play teams that have won the European Cup in six consecutive games. That they are entering the second international break of the season in the European places is the latest gravity-defying feat of De Zerbi’s entertainers.

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