As a team with serious midfield worries, Liverpool could well do without another trip to Brighton right now.
The Reds’ problems in the centre of the park this season have been well-documented, and they will certainly be tested this weekend when they return to the Amex Stadium, the scene of what Jurgen Klopp described only a fortnight ago as the worst game of his 22-year managerial career.
“A proper horror show,” was how Klopp referred to that 3-0 Premier League defeat at his pre-match press conference on Friday. His team may have responded to that drubbing with a pair of stubborn defensive performances, and a couple of hard-earned clean sheets, but they know that a serious improvement is needed if they are to keep alive their hopes of retaining the FA Cup they won in such dramatic fashion at Wembley last May.
For a side low on confidence, and struggling for cohesion, structure and balance, Brighton might represent the worst kind of opponent for Liverpool. Roberto De Zerbi’s side sit above them in the table, are scoring freely (19 goals in their last six matches) and consistently play with the kind of organisation, poise and energy that was for so long the Reds’ calling card.Getty Images
It was their widemen, the underrated Solly March and the electric Kaoru Mitoma, who did the damage when the sides met earlier this month, but much of Brighton’s success this season can be traced back to the performances of their central midfield duo, with Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo emerging as one of the most formidable pairings in the country.
Mac Allister, of course, played a key role in Argentina’s World Cup success, but it is the emergence of Caicedo which has caught the eye most this season, and which has made the Ecuador international one of the hottest properties in European football.
Chelsea have already had a £55 million ($68m) bid for the 21-year-old rejected this month, while reports on Friday suggested that Arsenal, too, had seen a £60m ($74m) offer rebuffed, with Brighton insistent that the player will not be sold in this window, despite the player's public plea to let him go. Their valuation is said to be closer to £100m ($124m), although the player has been told to stay away from the club until the transfer window is over.
That figure is quite remarkable, really, when you consider that this is a player who cost less than £5m when arriving from Independiente del Valle in January 2021, and who has made only 31 appearances for Brighton since. Twelve months ago, he was on loan with the Belgian side Beerschot, and by all accounts he wasn’t pulling up too many trees there, either.
He’s been brilliant since returning, though, his performances in the second half of last season ensuring that Brighton were able to sell Yves Bissouma to Tottenham, safe in the knowledge they already had the perfect replacement on board, ready to step up and fill the void.
Caicedo has certainly done that. He was the star of the show on the opening weekend of the Premier League season as the Seagulls recorded a first ever win at Old Trafford, and he has gone from strength to strength since, shining under Graham Potter and getting even better under De Zerbi, as well as performing admirably for Ecuador at the World Cup in Qatar.
“Caicedo, for me, could become one of the top midfielders in the Premier League and in Europe,” says De Zerbi. “There are many players who are very good with the ball but without it, in defensive spaces, are not so good. Others in the defensive space are top but with the ball there are some problems.
“With Caicedo, I don't see anything not at the top level. And he is very young so he can learn and improve more. He has no limit.”
Gustavo Alfaro, his former coach with Ecuador, agrees. “He is a world-class player,” he has said. In 2020 Alfaro trusted the 18-year-old Caicedo, on his senior international debut, to man-mark Lionel Messi in a World Cup qualifier against Argentina, and he has gone on to become a mainstay for his country since, earning 28 caps and scoring three goals.Getty Images
Clearly, he is a player destined to play at the top level. Liverpool are admirers, and there have been discussions internally at Anfield as to why the club were not all over him when he left Ecuador two years ago. Indeed, Caicedo looks as if he will have his pick of clubs in the summer, when he will have two years left on his contract and when Brighton will look to cash in as they have done successfully in the past with the likes of Bissouma, Ben White, Leandro Trossard and Marc Cucurella.
Trossard’s recent departure to Arsenal, as well as the tantalising prospect of European qualification, means they are loath to sell in January, although that could change if the player made clear his desire to leave, as Trossard did. Caicedo has expressed, in the past, his “dream” of playing for Manchester United, and the lure of Champions League football at Chelsea (and a reunion with Potter), or the potential of a Premier League winners’ medal at Arsenal, should not be underestimated.
For the time being, though, he remains at the Amex, alongside Mac Allister and ready to continue his inexorable rise to stardom.
Liverpool will be mightily relieved that he won't be involved on Sunday.