Liverpool travel to Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday seeking to bounce back from their first loss of the Premier League season – and BT Sport’s Jules Breach believes they’ll find it tough on the south coast.
The league leaders’ 20-match unbeaten run in the top flight came to an end with a 2-1 defeat at second-placed Manchester City last week, although Jürgen Klopp’s side remain four points clear at the summit.
Meanwhile, Brighton picked up a point at West Ham United to continue a run of form that had seen the Seagulls beat Everton 1-0 and draw 1-1 with Arsenal in their previous two Premier League outings – both at the Amex Stadium.
Chris Hughton’s side, who were defeated 1-0 at Anfield earlier in the season, sit secure in mid-table and booked their place in the FA Cup fourth round with a 3-1 win over AFC Bournemouth at the weekend.
So, what can Liverpool expect from the Seagulls on Saturday?
We last spoke back in August when you gave your expectations for the season, so what’s your half-term report on Brighton?
I can’t believe we’re halfway through the season already, it’s flown by! But it’s been a great first half for both Brighton and Liverpool.
The Seagulls are in decent shape – 13th in the Premier League and through to the fourth round of the FA Cup with a winnable home tie. The aim for Brighton, though, is always safety. That and progress, and I’m seeing good signs for both.
We’ve come up with some big results, my favourite being the derby victory versus Crystal Palace. And we got a decent return from the games over the festive period too, including draws with Arsenal and West Ham and a win at home to Everton.
There’s certainly more depth in the squad, and as fans we’re witnessing the improvement in players week by week, which is further evidence of what Hughton is continuing to work on at the club.
It’s been an encouraging five months and looking at the upcoming fixtures there’s definitely opportunity to put more points on the board and get closer to the magic number for safety.
Which player has surprised you most so far this season?
Recently, it has to be Jürgen Locadia. What a turnaround.
He’s not set the Premier League on fire, but considering most fans were expecting him to potentially be gone in this transfer window, he’s really worked hard and I’m pleased he’s made the most of his game time.
He looks confident, sharp, and it seems to suit him playing wide. With two goals in his last three games, I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts on Saturday. He’s earned it.
It was a close game at Anfield, how will Hughton approach the match at the Amex?
It’s no secret that Brighton seem to be a different animal at home. We’ve only lost one game at the Amex in our last seven, and that was to Chelsea. Our home form is impressive, but this statistic still surprised me: The Seagulls have only lost six home games since winning promotion in 2017.
So, I think it’ll be tight against Liverpool, but Hughton will approach the match like any other home game. We want the three points and we have the advantage at the Amex.
Brighton have earned a reputation for scoring from set-pieces, is this deserved?
They all count! When you’ve got two absolute powerhouse defenders in the box in Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy, plus top scorer Glenn Murray causing the opposition problems, I’m not surprised that other teams are wary of Brighton’s threat from dead-ball situations.
Our last three goals have come from set-pieces and that is a facet of the game that we are rightfully making the most of – although I would like to see more from open play. Work in progress.
Will that be the Seagulls’ best weapon against the Reds?
Brighton must play to their strengths against a team as good as Liverpool. Luckily for the Seagulls, it looks as though the Reds might have a reshuffle at the back with Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren all out.
Brighton will want to make the most of that, and set-pieces could be key in getting the breakthrough.
What have you made of Liverpool’s season so far?
They’ve been magnificent to watch. For me, they’re the best team in the league this season. To get to January unbeaten was a real feat. We all know that in the last 10 years the only team to be top at Christmas and not go on to win the title was Liverpool (twice), but I think this season is different.
With Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, the defence is so vastly improved, it surpasses any other team in the league – I mean, they’ve still only conceded 10 goals. There’s been a tiny blip and Manchester City are ridiculously good too. It’s a daunting task with how well the rest of the top four are doing, but I just think it’s Liverpool’s year.
Which key player battle could turn the game?
The Seagulls need to make the most of Liverpool’s unsettled defensive partnership. The reshuffle at the back could cause problems for the visitors against a strong home side. I thought Ki-Jana Hoever did really well against Wolves in the FA Cup, but if he does start, his lack of Premier League experience could show.
If Fabinho moves into the back four, it’s still a defensive unit Liverpool aren’t used to and whoever Hughton starts up top will want to cause that defence problems. I think it could be a key Murray v Fabinho battle as I think he’ll get the nod ahead of Hoever.
Which one Liverpool player would you like to see lining up as a Brighton player?
The Egyptian magician, surely! Mo Salah is just spellbinding. I love that he’s proved everyone wrong: he isn’t a one-season wonder. He’s a massive talent that brings fear to every defence he’s up against.
How do you expect the Seagulls to line up?
I can’t see many changes from the last Premier League game against West Ham.
Chris Hughton will stick to his usual system: David Button in goal in Mat Ryan’s continued absence at the Asia Cup; Martin Montoya, Dunk, and Duffy at the back and if Bernardo isn’t back fit from his knock then I’m guessing Gaetan Bong will come in at left-back.
It’ll likely be Solly March, Davy Propper, Dale Stephens, Pascal Gross, and Locadia in midfield, and then the only real question mark I have is who Hughton plays up front.
Murray hasn’t scored in six Premier League games now, but he tends to score most of his goals at the Amex. Hughton could opt for Florin Andone for more pace, but in my opinion, against Liverpool I think he should go for Murray for the start of the game, his wealth of experience against an untried defence could be the difference.
If that fails, then Andone can come on and change the game with his energy. Positive thinking!
What is your prediction for the game?
I’ve been struggling with this one because you can look at it two ways: it could be a good time to play Liverpool off the back of two defeats with a weakened defence; or, with the title race now so close, the Reds could come to the Amex totally fired up with Klopp demanding a reaction from his men.
No team has really torn apart Brighton this season, though, and if the Seagulls exploit Liverpool’s defensive issues, I do think it could be close again. But, if Liverpool’s front three click, they could run rampant and we could see a repeat of the 5-1 scoreline last season.
So here goes with my actual prediction: Brighton will score, but Liverpool will be so desperate to win this, I think they might just have too much. Brighton 1-2 Liverpool.
Premier League 2018-19
Premier League 2018-19