Brighton produced a blistering second-half performance to thump Liverpool 3-0 at the Amex and move above their hapless visitors in the Premier League.
Liverpool arrived on the south coast knowing they could find themselves as low as ninth in the table – and 10 points off the top four – if results went against them this weekend.
That ought to have been enough to motivate Jurgen Klopp’s side as they pursue Champions League football next season, but they were outplayed by Brighton from the first whistle.
Roberto De Zerbi’s impressive outfit were wasteful in the first half but found their range after half-time as Solly March’s double (46, 53) and Danny Welbeck’s volley (81) secured the points on a truly memorable afternoon for the club.
Brighton: Sanchez (7), Gross (7), Dunk (7), Colwill (7), Estupinan (7), Caicedo (7), Mac Allister (8), March (9), Lallana (7), Mitoma (8) , Ferguson (7).
Subs: Welbeck (7), Veltman (7), Sarmiento (n/a), Webster (n/a), Lamptey (n/a).
Liverpool: Alisson (6), Alexander-Arnold (3), Matip (4), Konate (5), Robertson (5), Henderson (5), Fabinho (6), Thiago (6), Salah (6), Gakpo (5) ), Oxlade-Chamberlain (5).
Subs: Keita (6), Doak (6), Elliott (6), Gomez (6).
Player of the game: Solly March
Liverpool latest victims of Brighton’s new-found ruthlessness
De Zerbi was faced with the same goalscoring issue as his predecessor Graham Potter during the early days of his reign, seeing his side score just four times in his first five games in charge.
But the Italian has overseen a transformation in recent weeks, with the Seagulls finding the net 17 times in their last five games, with Liverpool the latest victims of their new-found ruthlessness.
March nearly set Brighton on their way in the opening minutes when his low shot beat Alisson but was cleared over the crossbar by Trent Alexander-Arnold – who went on to endure a miserable afternoon at the hands of the irrepressible Kaoru Mitoma.
The Japanese winger, Alexis Mac Allister – given a hero’s welcome by the home fans as he made his first Premier League start since winning the World Cup with Argentina – and Evan Ferguson all missed further Brighton chances as the first half ended goalless.
- Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister made his first Premier League start since the World Cup, while Adam Lallana started against his former club
- Leandro Trossard was left out of the Brighton squad after Roberto De Zerbi publicly questioned his attitude on Friday, but Adam Webster and Danny Welbeck made a Premier League squad for the first time since the World Cup
- Darwin Nunez missed out on the Liverpool squad through injury, with Cody Gakpo starting in what was his first Premier League appearance, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was also named in the XI
The hosts also had a penalty for a foul by Alisson on March overturned after the winger was found to be offside, but they got the goal they deserved shortly after the break.
Joel Matip gave away possession deep in his own half, allowing Mitoma to set up March for a tap in, and he doubled his tally just seven minutes later with a cracking strike from the edge of the area that left Alisson with no luck.
Liverpool’s only chance of the first half came when Robert Sanchez twice denied Mohamed Salah at his near post, and opportunities continued to be few and far between for the visitors in the second period before Welbeck ended the contest with a classy finish, looping the ball over Joe Gomez’s head before finishing past Alisson.
Cody Gakpo – making his first Premier League start – was denied at close range by Sanchez and Harvey Elliott dragged a decent opening wide, but most of Liverpool’s afternoon was spent running towards their own goal as Brighton ran rings around Klopp’s beleaguered players.
Klopp: I can’t remember a worse game
Klopp accepted responsibility for Liverpool’s defeat, saying his decision to deploy a midfield diamond and push Alexander-Arnold higher than the rest of the back four failed to pay dividends.
“We tried to help the boys with slightly different organisation,” explained Klopp. “We had moments where it worked well and we put them under pressure, but we lose the ball much too easy, so we never got something going.
“Brighton was better throughout the whole 96, 97 minutes. It was clear that one team was ready to play a really good game, and one team had to fight with themselves.
“The problems are the same – we don’t win the key moments, we don’t win the challenges and we lose the ball too easy.
“It’s fully my responsibility with a different formation and it didn’t work out. The outcome was horrible to watch.
“It’s my job to make the right line-up, to set up the right tactics. I’m not sure if it’s because the game is still a few minutes ago but I can’t remember a worse game. I honestly can’t Not only Liverpool.
“That’s my responsibility. That makes it a really low point.”
De Zerbi not surprised by Brighton’s success
De Zerbi admitted he was surprised by Liverpool’s tactics – but not by his side’s success in exploiting their opponent’s weaknesses.
Asked if he was taken back by the performance, the Brighton boss said: “No – but surprised for the different tactical positions of Liverpool.
“For example, Alexander-Arnold in the first half was higher and they defended with only three. But we found the different solutions.
“I have very smart players and they understand when there are different situations. They know what they have to do on the pitch, depending on the different situations.”
De Zerbi also sent a warning to Leandro Trossard after the forward left the country on Friday following his manager’s public criticism of his attitude.
The Italian confirmed he was aware Trossard traveled out of the UK before the Liverpool game, adding: “I want to answer clearly about Trossard. I think I didn’t make a mistake with him.
“The people who work inside of Brighton know very well the situation. I am fine with myself.
“I am open to wait for him and I am ready to open the door for him. He’s a good guy and a very good player. I don’t want him to change teams but he has to understand that he has to work with my attitude and my way.
“I am the coach and I decide the rules inside the dressing room.”
Liverpool’s overrun midfield leaves defense exposed
Sky Sports’ Lewis Jones:
The spotlight is shining so brightly on Liverpool’s defense right now it’s blinding those in view – yet to focus solely on the individuals playing at the heart of the backline would be allowing others to escape criticism.
Yes, Matip was at fault for the opening Brighton goal with a sloppy pass, but up until that point he and Ibrahima Konate had defended with great cohesion and assurance. They simply had to as the pressure towards their goal was relentless from a Brighton side that are purring right now.
Why were the Liverpool centre-backs so busy? Well, it stemmed from the Liverpool midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Thiago, the latter playing in a very odd role just off the two strikers that did not suit him.
Brighton duo Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo made the Liverpool trio look like they should consider playing in a veterans’ league. The midfield is the heart of a Jurgen Klopp team – when it malfunctions, like it is doing right now, the forward line and backline suffer. This Liverpool team are not only malfunctioning but threatening to spin out of control.
Solly goes Marching on
Sky Sports’ Lewis Jones:
If you had just landed on planet Earth and someone told you the right-sided forward in the match between Brighton and Liverpool had scored 175 goals in the Premier League and won major individual awards like the PFA Player of the Year gong, then you’d bet your life on that player being March – not Salah.
The Brighton forward was like a man possessed by the natural talent of his most illustrious opponent, as his performance was like a vintage Salah one.
Whilst the Liverpool man was stumbling around up the other end, feeding off scraps, the former non-League player March was ripping Liverpool’s defense apart and grabbed himself two goals, taking his tally to four in his last four games. This is after a run of not scoring for 58 Premier League matches.
It’s a remarkable turnaround and his boss De Zerbi has to take huge credit for persevering with a player that had looked lost in front of goal earlier this season.
His second goal was one Salah would have been proud to call his. It was barely even half a chance as the ball dropped on his left foot at an angle with one of the world’s greatest goalkeepers to beat.
But beat him he did, with a dipping strike that nestled in the far corner. Solly goes marching on.
Brighton’s next game is away to Leicester in the Premier League on Saturday – kick-off 3pm.
Liverpool’s next outing is an FA Cup third-round replay at wolves on Tuesday – kick-off 7.45pm.
Jurgen Klopp’s side then host chelsea in the Premier League on Saturday – kick-off 12.30pm.