Salah, Coutinho and Firmino steal the show as Liverpool cruise at Brighton
BRIGHTON, England -- Three thoughts on Brighton 1-5 Liverpool in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.
1. Liverpool upwardly mobile
After the 3-3 debacle at Sevilla a few weeks ago, you'd forgive Liverpool fans for getting nervous when their team take a 3-0 lead. But for the second game in a row Jurgen Klopp's men completed an emphatic, fuss-free victory after scoring the first three goals, this time a 5-1 win over a Brighton side whose limitations were exposed.
Philippe Coutinho was the outstanding player, scoring at least once (his second possibly a Lewis Dunk own goal) and setting up another, the remaining goals coming from Emre Can and a Roberto Firmino brace. If Wednesday's 3-0 win over Stoke was efficient, this had far more flamboyance and ruthlessness.
Brighton began the game by trying to sit deep and frustrate their opponents, forcing them to try passing through the massed ranks, and initially it worked. Liverpool seemed to spend much of the opening 30 minutes knocking the ball around their backline, which featured two midfielders in Can and Georginio Wijnaldum. For a while, it looked like everyone was going to be in for a reasonably slow afternoon.
But Liverpool broke through Brighton's resistance twice in quick succession after half an hour. They took the lead from a corner, Can rising above some slack Brighton defending to hammer a header into the roof of the net.
And 79 seconds later it was two, this time via the slightly more familiar method of scoring from Klopp's side. A whirling counter-attack began with a Mohamed Salah run through the middle, he spread the ball left to Coutinho who hit a brilliant, low early ball across the face of goal and Firmino was there to force it home.
It looked like the game was well and truly over a few minutes into the second half. Izzy Brown crossed for Glenn Murray in the box but his effort was saved at point-blank range by Simon Mignolet. Liverpool then counter-attacked superbly, Salah fed Firmino who gave an instant demonstration of what clinical finishing looks like, sweeping high into the net.
But almost immediately afterwards Brighton had a goal back, when Can was penalised for an infringement following a corner. What sort of infringement wasn't immediately obvious, but few of the Liverpool players seemed to protest too loudly, and Murray struck a fine penalty home.
Brighton threatened sporadically, but Liverpool always looked in control. Coutinho capped the win with a few minutes to go, smartly driving a free kick from the edge of the area underneath the jumping wall, before making it five with the help of a chunky deflection off Dunk. A good job, done emphatically well.
2. Fearsome attack propels Klopp's Reds
You wonder whether, in a quieter moment, Klopp would admit that it would be nice to have a season without European football. The Liverpool manager has been forced to rotate his team in recent weeks because of their hectic schedule in November and December, but without the stress of the Champions League he might be able to play this forward line more often.
Coutinho, Firmino and Salah were exceptional in this game, their interchanging movement and darting runs the sort that would flummox much better defences than Brighton's. Chris Hughton's men should not necessarily be embarrassed at conceding goals to this forward line.
And of course this was without Sadio Mane in the starting XI: when the three who started might not even be Liverpool's first-choice attack, you know they're pretty well sorted at that end of the pitch.
Coutinho was probably the pick of the three. At times it looked like he was having one of those games where he looked like a 17-year-old playing in an Under-13s game. His speed of both feet and thought were the crucial half second ahead of Brighton's, and at times it seemed as if he was toying with them. The cross for Firmino's first goal was an absolute joy, and the simple ingenuity of his own free kick was quite brilliant too.
Klopp was asked this week about reports that Liverpool have given Barcelona the price they want for the Brazilian, and while he tried to dismiss them as best he could. But it's inevitable this will continue to be a frequent topic in the lead-up to January. At the risk of adding a little more stirring to this particular pot, watchers of the Premier League might be best advised to make the most of Coutinho while they can.
3. Toothless Brighton need a lift
It's a slightly odd experience watching Brighton in the Premier League after previously witnessing their dominance in the Championship. One of the characteristics of their play in the second tier was incisive attacks, which came from rapid movement from both wings that provided great service for their forwards.
It's obvious that things won't be as easy among the big boys, but even with that in mind their attacks against Liverpool looked toothless. Anthony Knockaert struggled to influence the game from the right, and on the left Brown's role seemed to be as much about defence as attack, especially in the first-half.
Murray was a dead-eyed finisher in the Championship, the sort of striker that made up for his lack of pace by taking his chances more often than not. In the Premier League, though, he's proved less effective. In the first half here he sliced a fine opportunity wide and while Mignolet received the congratulations of his teammates for the save that sparked Liverpool's third, Murray should have buried the chance from six yards out.
It is not easy finding a striker guaranteed to score goals in the Premier League, and their budget is not as generous as others', but not strengthening their forward line more significantly in the summer might prove to be their biggest mistake.
They've enjoyed a fine first half of the season, but top of their priority list in January should be shopping for a new forward.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.