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Advantage Chelsea? Liverpool lose ground in title race as Klopp's midfield malfunctions against Brighton

07:00 GMT 31/10/2021
Liverpool 2021
The Reds threw away a two-goal lead to draw against Brighton and it's not the first time they have squandered points this season

Not for the first time, Jurgen Klopp got it absolutely spot on.

Underestimate Brighton at your peril, he had warned on Friday. And on Saturday, we saw exactly what he meant.

“It feels like a defeat,” admitted the Liverpool boss after his side’s 2-2 draw at Anfield. On a day when Chelsea won and Manchester City lost, the Reds fell somewhere in between; not terrible, but certainly not good enough.

They remain the only unbeaten team in the Premier League this season, but they won’t want too many more afternoons like this. Their fourth draw of the campaign was easily their most frustrating.

“Unnecessary,” Klopp called it, accusing his side of “opening the door” for Brighton with their play, particularly in the second half.

Liverpool had led 2-0 after 41 minutes, with Jordan Henderson and Sadio Mane both on the scoresheet, but allowed their determined, spirited visitors back in.

Enoch Mwepu pulled a goal back before half-time, and Leandro Trossard ensured Graeme Potter’s men headed back to Sussex with a deserved point.

“The best way to defend them is to have the ball yourself,” Klopp added. “And that’s what we didn’t do for long enough.”

Liverpool’s disappointment was visible.

Visible in Klopp’s animated discussions with Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson from the sideline, in Robertson rowing with the Brighton bench during a fraught second-half, and in Henderson and Van Dijk, captain and vice-captain, arguing amongst themselves during a frantic, and ultimately fruitless, quest for a winning goal.

“In the second half, I was not overly happy with the body language of some,” admitted Klopp, though of greater concern will be the fact that this was the third time this season Liverpool have led a game and ended up drawing it.

Not a good habit for a side with title-winning aspirations. Advantage Chelsea then, for the time being. They did their job up in Newcastle, and lead the table by three points with more than a quarter of the season played.

Bigger tests lie in wait for Thomas Tuchel’s men, for sure, but this was a big weekend for them, especially with big players – Romelu Lukaku, Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Mateo Kovacic and Timo Werner – absent on Tyneside.

With City, the third juggernaut, stumbling at home to Crystal Palace, the chance was there for Liverpool to gain some significant ground. They didn’t take it, and it is that, as much as anything, which will annoy Klopp and his players.

The paucity of the Reds’ second-half display, meanwhile, will concern supporters. Plenty were making their way to the exit long before the final blast of referee Mike Dean’s whistle, having apparently given up on the idea of some late drama.

Understandable really; if any side looked like nicking the points in the closing stages, it was Brighton.

It had all looked so good, too. Liverpool led by two, four minutes before half-time. Henderson had scored his first league goal in more than 10 months, and Mane had converted a sublime cross from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for 2-0. 

Oxlade-Chamberlain had started on the bench but was called into action inside 20 minutes, with the luckless Naby Keita struck down once again by injury. A hamstring this time, said Klopp, whose midfield options are looking light, to say the least.

He will hope to have both Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara available soon, perhaps for Wednesday’s Champions League game with Atletico Madrid, but with James Milner, Harvey Elliott and now Keita all sidelined, the onus is on the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones to step up and deliver.

They couldn’t against Brighton. Liverpool’s midfield was too open and too easily played through. Were it not for Alisson Becker, and a narrow offside call against Trossard, the visitors may well have had more to show for their efforts.

Oxlade-Chamberlain struggled, shunted to the left wing as Klopp went 4-4-2 in the second half. “Ox can play better football,” admitted Klopp, though the same could be said for just about every one of his team-mates.

Even Mohamed Salah, this time, could not rise above the mediocrity. The Egyptian laid on the opener for Henderson in the fourth minute, but his 10-game scoring streak is over – though like Trossard at the other end, he too was denied a goal by a tight offside call.

In the end, the biggest cheer of the second half came when a couple of teenage pitch invaders managed to evade stewards and acquire the shirts of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andy Robertson at the final whistle. "They moved quicker than some of our players," joked one fan in the Main Stand.

Perhaps it was to be expected, after that momentous win at Old Trafford last weekend. Following that was always going to be tough, but Liverpool pride themselves on their professionalism, their mentality, their fitness and their consistency. 

For once, they fell short. Klopp can only hope they don’t live to regret it come May.