Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes his side are no longer “childish” in controlling matches after Mohamed Salah’s penalty edged out Brighton to extend their lead to seven points at the top of the Premier League.
The Reds dominated with more than 70% possession against their cagey hosts but created little in a workmanlike performance until Salah was felled in the area by Pascal Gross.
The Egyptian duly lashed the spot-kick left-footed across his body and into the net for a 17th goal of the season.
Brighton briefly rallied, with Fabinho – at the heart of Liverpool’s defence for the injured Dejan Lovren – producing a key block to deny Gross in the area as the home side failed to register a shot on target.
“I think it was the most mature performance we have made so far,” Klopp told BBC Sport. “There were a few situations where we could have been a bit more inspired, creative and cool.
“We know we can control the game and we are not that childish anymore.”
Klopp’s side were far from their fluent best but comfortably repelled their hosts to lengthen their advantage in the title race, with third-placed Tottenham playing on Sunday and nearest rivals Manchester City not in action until Monday.
‘Mature’ Reds get job done
Klopp embraced Salah at the final whistle after his side had seen off sporadic bursts of pressure from their hosts in the closing stages.
The threat of a third straight defeat was held at bay after a loss to City and an FA Cup loss at Wolves, and the Reds can still boast being without back-to-back league defeats under Klopp’s charge.
At the Amex, they demonstrated the efficiency and control of a side capable of winning while not at their best.
Salah – who had just 13 touches in a quiet first half – produced a single moment of game-defining trickery to tangle with Gross, and it proved enough as Liverpool eased to a 13th clean sheet of the season.
Georginio Wijnaldum flashed a shot wide and Salah missed a glorious chance from six yards after a James Milner pullback, which would have provided late breathing space.
But on a day where the heart of Liverpool’s defence was shuffled – with Fabinho joining Virgil van Dijk to cover for injuries – Klopp pointed to an “unbelievably mature” display by his side as they returned to form.
Grown-up Reds set relentless pace
Klopp will also be thrilled by Trent Alexander-Arnold’s completion of 90 minutes after the right-back hurt himself during a fall in the warm-up.
The 20-year-old appeared tentative early on but his presence was key later when he stretched to flick a Florin Andone cross out of the path of Jurgen Locadia in the area.
It was an example of the occasional opening Brighton created without ever getting a clear sight of the league leaders’ goal.
Klopp was quick to state the seven-point gap “means nothing”.
But the manner in which his side are grinding out results is setting a pace rarely seen at the top of the English game. They have now won all 16 games they have played against teams outside the league’s top six.
Such consistency means only four sides in English top-flight history have ever had more than the 57 points Liverpool boast at this stage of the season if league tables are adjusted to three points for a win.
And only Chelsea’s 2004-05 side have leaked fewer goals (8) than the Reds’ 10 after 22 games. Klopp has grown a tough nut to crack.
Brighton disciplined but blunt
Brighton’s fans were angered by referee Kevin Friend’s display, though it did appear Gross placed his hands on Salah before catching the Liverpool player’s leg in the key moment.
In truth, Liverpool’s brief increase in tempo immediately after the interval proved vital in undoing a Brighton side which had looked solid until that point.
Sitting deep in a 4-5-1 set-up with no pressure on the ball until it entered their final third, the home side’s caution meant their own attacks were minimal – a fact underlined by striker Glenn Murray having just seven touches in the opening 45 minutes.
Klopp said his side were aware of the threat posed by a team with more set-piece goals than anyone else in the league, but even dead-ball scenarios proved fruitless and lacked threat.
Seagulls boss Chris Hughton faces a testing trip to Manchester United next but his side are three points better off than at this stage last season.
The addition of some attacking quality would no doubt help their survival cause but their general organisation remains admirable and will be key in their fight to stay up.
Man of the match – Virgil van Dijk
‘We deserved something’ – manager reaction
Brighton manager Chris Hughton:
“We were always in the game and were very competitive. I felt we deserved something.
“These are the best team in the country. I am conscious of where we are. We have developed well. We have to stay in the game and be compact and look for moments. I thought we had that today.”
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp: “We controlled the game in a better way when we scored the goal. We could have done better but I am fine because the target is to win here. We had to perform and deliver and we did that.”
Salah the difference again – stats
- Brighton manager Chris Hughton has lost more league games to Liverpool in his managerial career (seven defeats from seven meetings) than any other side. His sides have conceded 26 goals across those seven games.
- This was Liverpool’s 50th clean sheet in the Premier League under Jurgen Klopp in their 128th match with the German in charge since his first in October 2015; 42% of those have come since Virgil van Dijk’s league debut in January 2018 (21 in 37 games since).
- Brighton have now lost as many games at the Amex Stadium in all competitions this season (four of 12) as they did in the entirety of 2017-18 on home soil (four of 22 matches).
- Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah has scored the opening goal in nine Premier League games this season; at least three more than any other player.
- Of the last 10 Premier League penalties taken by left-footed players, six have failed to score – the other four have all been scored by Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah.
Liverpool host Crystal Palace on 19 January in a 15:00 GMT kick-off, when Brighton will be playing at Manchester United.