Liverpool returned to winning ways with a narrow 1-0 victory over Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday.
The Reds took the lead shortly after half-time as Mohamed Salah scored from the penalty spot having been fouled by Pascal Gross inside the area.
And that would be all it required for Liverpool to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League to seven points.
But who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Mohamed Salah
Like the rest of his Liverpool team, Mohamed Salah had a torrid first half. The Egyptian had just 13 touches of the ball, the fewest of any Liverpool outfield player and completed just eight passes. Salah also failed to record a shot, create a chance or attempt a take on.
Just five minutes into the second half, Salah had improved exponentially. He had the game’s first shot on target shortly after half-time, working his way into the Brighton box well before driving a shot low and hard at David Button who was equally matched to it.
But he had another chance to breach the Brighton net moments later as he was fouled by Pascal Groß inside the penalty area. Salah stepped up to take the subsequent shot, and his effort was too powerful for Button, giving Liverpool the lead.
It was his 14th goal of the season, the joint-most in the Premier League, and once again proved why you cannot count Salah out of any match – no matter how poor he has been.
The goal immediately saw the Egyptian’s confidence change, as he continued to get at a Brighton defence which had been rigid in the first half, causing all sorts of problems for the Seagulls.
Loser: Glenn Murray
Glenn Murray was Brighton’s goalscoring hero at the start of the season, hurting Premier League defences despite his limited mobility.
But, against Liverpool, Murray’s goalless streak continued to seven games and, aside from one header in the first half, the 35-year-old really didn’t look like ending it.
In his 66 minutes on the pitch before being taken off for Florin Andone, Murray had just 16 touches of the ball – fewer than any player to have started the game, including both goalkeepers.
Murray managed just one shot on goal, failing to hit the target with the aforementioned header, which was a good opportunity to give Brighton the lead in a poor first half.
But, with Brighton having very little time on the ball, the game was not set up for Murray and Chris Hughton saw this, bringing on the more mobile Florin Andone with 25 minutes to go as the Seagulls looked to get back into the match.
It wasn’t to be and it cannot be solely blamed on Murray, but the 35-year-old certainly had another day to forget.
Fabinho was thrust in at centre-back against Wolves on Monday and was powerless to stop his Liverpool side bow out of the FA Cup. The Brazilian was thrown in again alongside Virgil van Dijk at the Amex, and played a very good role as Liverpool kept a clean sheet and extended their lead at the top of the table to seven points.
The Brazilian was a rock in defence, with more clearances than any other player on the pitch (five) and two more than his closest Liverpool teammates. Fabinho also won three aerial duels, which is something to be proud of considering he spent the first 66 minutes of the match facing the aerially tough Murray.
The performance didn’t go unnoticed by the Liverpool fans watching around the world, with some going as far as saying Fabinho was a better centre-back than Dejan Lovren.
Fabinho has been absolute magnificent at CB
— Finessin’ (@Ozzyolamide) January 12, 2019
I don’t think the shout about Fabinho being the VvD to the midfield is such an outrageous shout anymore, tbh.
— thebaseroom (@futbolbaseroom) January 12, 2019
— Cutty Flam (@Nuanvin) January 12, 2019
Crazy how Fabinho would get game time at CB for Arsenal and United
— Quinn (@FutbolQuinn) January 12, 2019
Fabinho and van Dijk are absolutely boss.
— Keith Rice (@KeithRice10) January 12, 2019
— Aditya. (@MoManeMino) January 12, 2019
Though others, while hailing Fabinho at centre-back, noticed poor midfield play without the Brazilian in his natural position.
Fabinho is doing very well as a CB today but unfortunately 4-2-3-1 is not working without him in midfield so we are back to 4-3-3 with Shaqiri our and Milner in. #BHALIV
— The Walid (@mrwsi) January 12, 2019
— AnfieldIrish (@KopDublin) January 12, 2019
Losers: Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson
While Fabinho was exceeding expectations out of position, Liverpool’s midfield duo of Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum were not winning any fans over.
With Klopp opting for his 4-2-3-1 formation, pushing Xherdan Shaqiri further forward, Henderson and Wijnaldum were the duo expected to help move the ball out from defence and push it towards the attackers.
Except, neither of them did this. Both undeniably good passers, the pair often opted for the safer option of moving the ball between one another, giving Brighton’s defence the opportunity to reform when they had previously been open for counter.
These are opportunities the Liverpool of old would have made the most of, utilising the pace of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. But instead, the Reds had to work hard for their narrow win with very little creativity.
And it angered some parts of the Liverpool fanbase.
That might’ve been Wijnaldum’s worst ever game you know. Far more negative on the ball than Henderson was, which says a lot
— Dominic (@DomBobb18) January 12, 2019
Henderson, Wijnaldum & Milner in midfield is like playing with 8 men.
— Keep Sturridge! (@StevieGForcee) January 12, 2019
How is it 2019 and we still have to endure a Henderson, Wijnaldum and Milner midfield?
— Jamie Porter (@JGPorter1993) January 12, 2019
I don’t understand why henderson and wijnaldum pass the ball to each other back to back at 2 meters away from each other.. like why?
— whosane (@AbbasOnFire) January 12, 2019
Winner: Jurgen Klopp
Successive defeats against Man City and Wolverhampton Wanderers had many questioning the resolve of this Liverpool side as they looked to win a first league title since 1990. And, after a drab first half at the Amex, further questions were being asked.
The Reds looked bereft of creativity against a stern Brighton back line and did not appear likely to break down Chris Hughton’s side.
But after half-time something clicked. Something Klopp said to his men in the 15 minutes roused Liverpool enough to storm out at the start of the season half, with Salah remembering he’s just won the African Player of the Year for 2018.
They immediately had the game’s first shot on target when Salah tested Button from close range after a positive run and took the lead moments later, again through their Egyptian star.
It was a hard-fought win for Liverpool, but those are the type of games the Reds of 2013/14 may have lost. Another sign of positive change.
Loser: Liverpool’s defence
Could this be the moment Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League starts to slip away from them, despite the win?
It is often said a team’s title challenge is reliant on their injuries, or lack of, among other footballing aspects. Up until Christmas, Liverpool have done fairly well in keeping their key players fit but they are starting to rack up.
Trent Alexander-Arnold starts for Liverpool vs. Brighton despite suffering a knock in the warm-up. 💪 pic.twitter.com/Wfy5sYQcbd
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) January 12, 2019
The Reds were already without Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren going into the game against Brighton, with Joel Matip only just returning to the bench. As a result, Jurgen Klopp had to play Fabinho at centre-back for the second successive game. But that wasn’t the problem position for Liverpool on Saturday. This time it was at right-back.
During the warm-up Trent Alexander-Arnold suffered a knock which appeared to affect him at the start of the game, with Klopp having to send James Milner out to warm up as a potential replacement. The 20-year-old did manage to play on but it would have undoubtedly been a scare for the Reds.
Liverpool, who boast the best defence in the Premier League, are seriously thin at the back with regards to depth. Having loaned out Nathaniel Clyne to Bournemouth, the Reds now have no replacement senior right-back, with Klopp apparently not trusting 18-year-old Rafael Camacho to replace Alexander-Arnold – as shown by Milner warming up.
This means that Liverpool are only another big injury away from naming a mix-matched defence ready to be taken apart by opponents.