The worst of the worst? Brighton shocker leaves Liverpool at rock bottom
Reds fans feared the worst heading to the Amex, but what they got was a performance as bad as anything served up under Jürgen Klopp
You know that moment when you catch someone’s eye, and neither of you need to say anything?
Well I caught Jürgen Klopp’s eye as he finished his press conference at the Amex Stadium, and his face said what a thousand words couldn’t.
I know mate, I know. What can I possibly say?
I might be in the minority here, but I always feel for managers in situations like this. They sit and they watch as their best-laid plans, the ones they spent all week thinking up and sweating over, are made to look absurd. They look on as good footballers - and some of these are great footballers, don’t forget - forget everything they’ve been told, everything they are and everything they need to do. Rabbits in the headlights, unnerved by the presence of a size five football and an energetic opponent.
They go through 90 minutes of hell on the sideline, and then no sooner have they been put out of their misery by the final whistle, they have to move down a massive line of cameras and microphones, explaining how and why it all went wrong, and just where it ranks in terms of happiness/misery/joy/despair.
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Then comes the ‘presser’, usually the last stop-off point before they jump on the team bus and get themselves out of Dodge. They wander in, press officer at their side, sit themselves down, wait patiently for all the dictaphones and the mobiles to be placed on the desk in front of them, and then proceed to answer the questions they’ve spent the previous half hour answering.
It can’t be easy. Even after a win, it can feel like a painful process, but after a defeat like this one? Rather you than me, Jürgen.
Klopp reckoned that this might have been the worst game of his managerial career, and who am I to argue? It was definitely one of the worst I can remember since he arrived at Liverpool, and I’ve been to and written about pretty much all of them.
Watford in 2015 was bad, but Klopp was only a couple of months in the job then. And Liverpool had Adam Bogdan and Alberto Moreno in the team that day. Watford in 2020 was poor, but they were about 50 points clear at the top of the table by then. You could allow them an off day.
There were some shockers during the pandemic season, for sure. They all blend into one, in my mind. Burnley and Brighton, Fulham and Everton, Leicester and Southampton. A cold, unhappy blur of empty stands, empty streets, Ozan Kabak and terrible, training ground football.
The 7-2 at Villa, maybe? Yeah, probably, although that felt more like a freak occurrence than anything else. Brighton, 2023? This was different, worse.
Maybe, as Klopp says, the worst of them all.
I know you all feared this one. I read the WhatsApp messages, the comments and the tweets. I saw the faces in the service station on the way down. Worried. “Tough one today,” they said. You didn’t fancy the Reds, did you?
I didn’t either, to be honest, but by the time the teams were out and the skies over East Sussex were darkening, I’d convinced myself that this was a team capable of responding, of surprising, of winning. They can’t keep being poor, can they? And Brighton can’t keep causing them problems, can they? This is Liverpool, isn’t it?
Yes they can, yes they did and no they’re not. It took only a few minutes to realise that whatever optimism anyone had over Liverpool today was misplaced. “Start well and go from there” was the last message I sent to a Red friend of mine, a minute or two before kick off. They started appallingly, and it got worse from there.
“I have nothing good to say about the game,” Klopp said. He’d tried a little tactical tweak, asking Thiago to play further forward, almost as a No.10, but the Spaniard may as well have been sat in the stands, so anonymous was he as Brighton manoeuvred their way around the pitch with ease, pinching the ball, dominating the ball and generally looking a level or two above their feted visitors.
Liverpool were lucky to go in at half time level, lucky to get nil, as the old gag goes. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Jordan Henderson play worse, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Thiago and Fabinho weren’t much better. Brighton’s midfielders, Moisés Caicedo, Adam Lallana and Alexis Mac Allister, bossed things, while their wide players, the underrated Solly March and the brilliant Kaoru Mitoma, had an absolute field day. Mitoma, like Caicedo and Mac Allister, looks like he’s going to make them a lot of money in the future. The Japanese international was outstanding.
Still, the manner of Liverpool’s collapse was horrendous. What was Joël Matip thinking, playing a pass like that at a time like that? Where was the composure and the quality on the ball? Why was there constantly no pressure on the ball, and why was the gap between the midfield and the attack bigger than the frown sweeping across Klopp’s face? Mo Salah didn’t play well and nor did Cody Gakpo, but you felt for them. They were isolated from start to finish.
“It’s my responsibility,” he told my colleague, James Pearce, and it was right that he found time to praise those who stayed until the end to support the team. Mind you, you couldn’t question those who left well before the final whistle. A 7am start, a five-hour drive or train ride, and you get that to watch?!
One can only hope that the journey home was not too painful, and that this marks a line in the sand, as far as this season is concerned. We go again Tuesday, Wolves away in the cup. It must not, should not, and cannot get worse from here, surely?