Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Liverpool 1 in the FA Cup fourth round at the Amex Stadium…


LIVERPOOL have hard lines.

That isn’t the same as saying they deserve to win nor is it saying that Kaori Mitoma wasn’t the best or most exciting player on the pitch.

They don’t and he was.

Instead, we’re left seeing Liverpool were well set up and broadly sensible. They play well one to 11 and arguably one to 15 with only the 16th man being questionable.

We’ll get back to that 16th man.

The game grows and Liverpool grow. They know what Mitoma is and what Brighton are and plan well, execute well, and while they don’t deserve to go ahead, they are worthy of it.

It is such a good goal and in moments up to that point Liverpool have done well. Trent Alexander-Arnold clearing off the line is good moments football by the standards of the season. We should get in before then, but we stop them well enough too.

The game will, in Liverpool’s eyes, always exist in the context of what happened earlier this month at the Amex. That was what needed to not happen again and that is what did not happen again. Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita play well, they shut down Brighton from the back. Both centre backs play well. They show aggression and win the ball high. The full backs do alright in general.

Harvey Elliott doesn’t play that well but then is brilliant in moments. He scores excellently and finds Mo Salah and Salah should score. There is a point here – playing in midfield creates a requirement to be good in moments; playing in attack allows a player more leeway and he takes it. It is amongst his best Liverpool performances.

Their equaliser is the hardest of lines. Liverpool concede a soft corner but clear it well and are punished cheaply. Brighton are a side normally worthy of their goals but this is a cheap one.

I love them though, you know, Brighton. This happens from time to time, you find a team, see a team and fall for one which isn’t yours, which is fundamentally flawed as far as winning leagues or Champions Leagues, but they grab the imagination.

Kaori Mitoma helps. He is the most vibrant player in the division at the moment who doesn’t play for Arsenal. He’s sharp as a tack and gives Trent a torrid time, while I can say Trent does well under the circumstances.

But Liverpool are the better side. The subs early in the second half are part of making the game be one where Liverpool control both ball and territory and Brighton exist on the counter. Keita had played really well on the ball but Jordan Henderson helped Liverpool be better off it.

What is all the better is that Cody Gakpo finds the glory of winning it back high. It’s another good showing from Gakpo, building on him being tidy against Chelsea. He wins it, makes good fouls and just shows in and out of possession.

Liverpool, though, don’t get more creative; if anything, them being better in general means they were less likely to be able to play on the counter. It is also a blow in the grand scheme that Alexander-Arnold goes off, though James Milner does well. Curtis Jones comes on for Thiago and that doesn’t help.

But. But this: Bajcevic goes off when he looks leggy. Fabinho comes on, the 16th man, and looks 60 per cent of the man he replaces in that moment. He kills Liverpool. He deserves to be sent off, knows it and spreads anxiety everywhere.

It’s harsh because there are cameras everywhere these days, but what on earth is Fabinho about before and after that tackle? I couldn’t begin to tell you. It’s like something from a nightmare, a nightmare I have had but then I have never won the European Cup with Liverpool.

Further, he compounds it with his body language to the rest of the side. You know what you do? You apologise but then you mess about with your socks and shinpads. You strut a tiny bit. Not that, not what he does.

Football is rock hard and so much of it is about bullshit. About sending out a sense of yourself which makes you appear far greater than you are. What Fabinho does is the absolute opposite of that and it hurts Liverpool. It really does. It offers Brighton encouragement and the game never really recovers, from a Liverpool point of view.

The defensive shape in the buildup to the foul that leads to the goal and then from the free kick is really poor. But Mitoma is incredible. It is one of the great goals, goals that help define a season.

And I hope it does. Often, in this game of ours, we lose and afterwards we say “I hope they go on and win it,” because you feel it will reflect well on you, not because of them.

But I hope they do win it. They are a club getting a lot right, in a place which is full of love and kindness and seaside, with some fabulous footballers. I hope they win the cup. I hope they play European football because Europe would be in for a treat. Post-match beers around the ground for one thing.

No football team gets it all right forever. That’s impossible. Brighton though, with Kaori Mitoma and Alexis Mac Allister and Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster are better than the sum of their parts and making those parts better. They are the best of the game.

Liverpool don’t deserve to lose. Before a ball was kicked I was against a replay. As the game wore on I actually wanted to watch these sides play each other before my eyes. Testament to both. When it finishes, you know what? I was OK with The Reds. And I wish our opponents all the best.

Gutmann messaged me about meeting today to watch the game and I messaged back “awful”. Just awful, I thought. The whole thing. How wrong I was. We got beat. We had hard lines. It happens.

But it was a great game to watch and I felt alive and that is leaps and bounds better than the January 14 and that is a step forward.

Just beat Wolves.

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