The word that best describes Jurgen Klopp’s attitude after the Liverpool side had been gutted by Brighton is: Embarrassment. As he took on media duties, a coach prone to rage when things went wrong looked embarrassed, as if he wanted the ground cleared before him. “It was the worst defeat of his career,” he said.
While he finds some solace in that: while it’s true that Liverpool are just as poor this disappointing season, their scrambled performance wasn’t the only reason for their deaths. As Klopp noted, Brighton was excellent. In this type of form, not many could keep up with them.
His clever assessment was, “It was a very organized team against a not very organized team”.
It’s a growing phenomenon this season: the Premier League’s new mid-level teams regularly beat established clubs. And there’s a reason Brentford won at Manchester City, there’s a reason Fulham beat Chelsea, there’s a reason Brighton won at Manchester United that goes beyond their rivals’ problems. While it can be tempting to dwell on drop cues, it can be more productive to understand why your opponent is winning rather than getting stuck with why they’re losing.
Klopp was correct in describing Brighton as organized, but there is a consistency about the club that goes beyond the tactical display on the pitch. Like Brentford, even an operation as successful as Anfield in its overall structure has a lot to learn. Get your staff. Liverpool fans have spent much of this stumbling season pointing out who is missing. Virgil van Djik in the treatment room, Darwin Nunez in red card exile, Luis Diaz’s reputation growing with every match he’s unavailable: The players who are not on the field are just as talked about as the ones on the field. But Brighton entered this game with their best player and Leandro Trossard, the hat-trick man in the reverse fixture at Anfield, and is unavailable due to a disagreement with his manager. Yet the striker’s absence turned out to be irrelevant. 18-year-old Irishman Evan Ferguson stepped into the role of Trossard and played it perfectly, continuing the game with mature authority and keeping a close eye on two goals.
Ferguson is the latest in the long and clever Brighton signings, apparently under the noses of the big club scouting nets. Players missed by the leading parties dominated order everywhere on Saturday. In midfield, Liverpool’s highly decorated trio of Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara and Jordan Henderson appeared lead-footed by Brighton’s brilliant Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister. Both of these players were available on the open market. Liverpool’s small army of analysts, like those at Manchester United and Chelsea, has decided to ignore them. Still, what a difference both players would make for this Liverpool team and add some strength to a midfield that was ossified over the course of the week. Now the problem is Liverpool will have to pay through the nose to reward them from the south coast.
The other thing Brighton has done and should supposedly be a lesson to their superiors is the way they allow such players to thrive. Admittedly, time is a more accessible meta than at big clubs where success has to be instantaneous, but the way Solly March went from a League One player to a Premier League match winner is instructive. His two goals here were the kind that Mohammed Salah could envy. Beside him were two veterans who had been kicked out by the big boys, but who were recognized as still having a lot to offer in Brighton. That’s right, Liverpool took away Adam Lallana and Danny Welbeck, the ex-boy of United and Arsenal, who scored a fantastic goal, may no longer have the stamina for 90 minutes. Still, the cameos here were decisive.
But what the Trossard case shows best is how skilled Brighton seems to be at finding ready-made substitutes; fast, hassle-free not only to enter the system, but also to develop it. While Liverpool fans are still saddened by Sadio Mane’s departure, in Brighton they are just getting by. If Caicedo and Mac Allister eventually find themselves at Anfield or Old Trafford, you suspect Brighton will quickly set up backups. They cope when the manager leaves. Roberto de Zerbi, who was brought in when Graham Potter was snatched by Chelsea under the impression that he was the sole architect of success at Amex, already seems like the ideal date. It added a hint of Italian brutality to Potter’s accusations. He also took Trossard and won. What he realizes is that in Brighton it is the system that counts, not the individual.