Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Liverpool 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 1 in the 2023-2024 Premier League season…

 

THAT was an examination.

I mean, it was a dark night of the soul. But we can stick with examination for now.

Not least because what Brighton & Hove Albion do is ask you questions. Over and over again, questions. It must be exhausting to play in because you don’t just get to sit at a desk, you have to run a lot too.

They are so unorthodox and they make us play in a way we aren’t comfortable with really. Which then makes the ground edgy, because why aren’t Liverpool being Liverpool? How can a side with Brighton’s budget make us change our approach?

We could do our usual and it could work. It genuinely could. But we’ve seen them enjoy it. So instead we choose to do this strange hybrid and pick our battles. We choose to not play Conor Bradley from centre back, because we think that is what they want. We choose instead to dip Wataru Endo and split the centre halves and go the keeper and recycle until we can break the lines with three touches.

We choose to play entirely to Alexis Mac Allister’s strengths. And those strengths are quite something. It has been some three months from him and it shows no sign of slowing. He is everything now to this team, he gives and goes, finds space and prompts. He wins his battles. He is, by some distance, the best player on the pitch.

The best player ever to play for Liverpool has quite the afternoon. The key thing becomes that you cannot keep Mo Salah out of the action. He constantly gets himself in and then falls short. This is more fraught because of the early goal.

I hated the early goal. The one thing you don’t want to give this bunch is any encouragement, they are too good, too delighted in their lack of orthodoxy for that. But there it was, the ultimate kick in the teeth and a new mountain to climb. An examination of the brain, the legs and now the courage.

And so Salah showed. Showed and showed and so did Luis Diaz. Diaz was a delight, a key, a way through, over and around. The goal was some finish and it had been coming.

What frustrated then was Liverpool wanted a breather, but Brighton were happy with the ball. This was the damage of the early goal. Had Diaz opened the scoring the game would have bent to our will. Had Diaz’s goal to make it three stood, the game would have bent to our will. Instead, Brighton constantly felt alive and enjoyed the stage.

I enjoyed them, frankly. The cleverness and the riskiness is a reason to live and I hope the collective Brighton support is having the time of their lives. They commit so wholeheartedly to what they are.

Second half though, Liverpool control it and show all their cleverness. Endo never stops learning and the winner comes from he who will not stop. He should make it three, but that is OK. There will have been days when Dalglish should have made it three but Liverpool still won. Dominik Szoboszlai’s game is his best since October.

In the end, the the first and last six minutes were horrendous. The rest Liverpool shade and that will do, more than shade really. It just felt different.

It felt great in the end. Because of what it opens up between now and the end of May.

The Big Nine. The Big Nine Redux. This time it’s bigger. Last season was a practice. But it was a ball, wasn’t it?

What we don’t want is fear and what we don’t want is nostalgia settling on us for what has been. Fuck that. Nostalgia will kill you, I promise you that and we cannot begin to be nostalgic for what hasn’t ended yet.

Instead, we have The Big Nine. The big dance leading to a bigger parade, a demonstration of Global Liverpudlianism which will pin the world back by its ears. Why? Because we can. Because we have to. Because it will be the only fitting way to say goodbye and the only fitting way to show that it is never going to stop. We won’t have that. Not now, not ever.

We passed the examination. Not quite flying colours, but passed. And the reward is all this opening up.

The Big Nine. I’ll have all nine, thanks. We can share them and then we can go dancing.

Neil


Download The Anfield Wrap’s free app for Liverpool FC podcasts, video and writing all in one place…

Recent Posts: