There is simply no escaping it. Liverpool are a team in crisis, a sinking ship that was simply no match for this ever-improving Brighton side that continue to set the benchmark for the rest of the Premier League in their quest to gatecrash the Big Six. The relentless, eye-catching Seagulls – inspired by the unstoppable Kaoru Mitoma and two-goal Solly March – tore the depleted Reds to shreds as Liverpool’s car-crash season plunged into new depths of despair. Brighton, who grabbed a deserved third to cap a statement attacking performance, were magnificent and in truth, would have dismantled almost any side that stood before them this afternoon as Roberto De Zerbi’s spellbinding football once again left a lasting impression on the delighted home crowd as Jurgen Klopp could only watch on in horror.
Klopp tactical experiment exposed
From the opening exchanges of this unpredictable encounter, it soon became apparent that Liverpool were not fielding the simplistic 4-3-3 system reflected on their team sheet.
Trent Alexander-Arnold was very high, almost playing as a right-winger while Thiago Alcantara was playing as a No 10.
Over a more sustained period of time, Liverpool’s shape began to make more sense to those watching on in confusion. In possession, it was the traditional Klopp 4-3-3 but out of possession, this was a 3-2-3-2.
Confusing, perhaps but for elite coaches like Klopp and Pep Guardiola, it’s a system of huge familiarity – although there is no recollection of Liverpool using it this season but with significant absentees, the Reds are having to find solutions.
It’s the same system that Guardiola implemented in the 2010/11 system when Barcelona won a famous treble that was capped with a dominant performance at Wembley Stadium against Manchester United in the Champions League final.
At the back, Joel Matip, Ibrahima Konate and Andy Robertson were ruling the roost for Klopp with Fabinho and Jordan Henderson in front for protection.
But this is where things were interesting. Trent, Thiago and Oxlade-Chamberlain were ahead in the first layer of attack with Cody Gakpo and Mohamed Salah leading the line.
The two ‘strikers’ were starved of all service in truth and were really feeding off scraps on the counter-attack. It was a really ugly attacking performance from Liverpool – one we wouldn’t usually associate with a Klopp team.
Defensively, it was also suicide. Twice in the first half, Trent was nearly exposed – despite simply following instructions – as Kaoru Mitoma penetrated the glaring space vacated by the Reds right-back.
He was back to clear one off the line and then make a fine tackle but in the second half, Brighton got the luck their performance warranted.
The Seagulls ruthlessly penetrated the space in the Liverpool backline, first via Mitoma’s ball across goal for Solly March and for a second time when the local winger burst through and hammered home in style.
Mitoma helps Brighton forget Trossard
It’s easy to see why Roberto De Zerbi is seemingly prepared to banish Leandro Trossard, who has been a staple for Brighton in the past three seasons following this 2019 transfer from Genk.
But now there is a new jet-heeled forward on the lips of every Brighton supporter and that is Koaru Mitoma. He is a remarkable talent. It is hard not to admire his pace and trickery.
He is very predictable in many ways but also equally unstoppable once he turns on the afterburners. One slick turn saw him leave Trent Alexander-Arnold for dead in the first half before Joel Matip was also forced to haul down the speedy Japanese starlet. The lanky defender received a yellow card for his troubles.
Every time Mitoma had the ball, he looked capable of making something decisive happen. It’s something that you could now say about him on a weekly basis after finding consistency in the Premier League following a patient wait for opportunities.
Mitoma is a very different profile to Trossard but he is far more dangerous and harder to stop. His rapid acceleration and electric pace was a huge problem for Liverpool throughout this tricky away trip to the South Coast.
His work rate got its rewards as well when he set up the Albion opener with a brilliant ball across the face of goal that provided March with a tap in.
Brighton’s unique eye for talent is unmatched in the Premier League and potentially Europe and it won’t be long before suitors begin to make enquiries for Mitoma but just like Mosies Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister – they will be told where to go.
Ox gets hairdryer
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is now in the final six months of his Anfield deal but he is still receiving regular playing opportunities due to Liverpool’s ever-growing list of injuries in attack.
He was sloppy though here at Brighton and struggled to show any signs of sharpness in a lacklustre first-half display on Liverpool’s left flank.
One poor, heavy touch right in front of Klopp – that was followed by no appetite to dart back and recover the ball – was met by the hairdryer from the Liverpool boss.
The animated tactician let rip at his winger, waving his arms and hands in a bid to fire up his sluggish star, who needs to show more hunger and desire in order to nail down a starting berth between now and the end of the campaign.
It has been the story of Ox’s Liverpool career. So much talent that has been displayed unquestionably in moments and patches but the consistency is just not there.
It’s the exact reason he is likely to be moved on via a free transfer in the summer when his deal is up in June. There have been no indications thus far that Liverpool will look to extend his stay, although that could yet change.
Liverpool’s moment of desperation
If there was ever a moment this Saturday afternoon that summarised the sheer desperation of Liverpool’s deteriorating project it was Klopp’s quadruple second-half substitution.
Joe Gomez, Naby Keita, Ben Doak and Harvey Elliott were all thrown into the mix in a bid to wrestle back the game for Liverpool but this was a far cry from the kind of quality the Reds have possessed in times gone by.
There is no doubt that both Doak and Elliott are huge talents but they are still very raw and it’s a big ask for them to change the complexity of games in the Premier League.
Klopp had no other choice but the changes really did emphasise how much Liverpool miss Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz, Roberto Firmino and even Sadio Mane. Darwin Nunez – missing with a hamstring issue – also would have been a major asset at the Amex.
There is no easy fix for Liverpool besides time but at the current rate of stagnation, they may have to accept the prospect of surrendering Champions League football next season.