This was not exactly how Jürgen Klopp would have planned it. But Liverpool moved a step closer in their quest to overhaul Manchester City’s record Premier League points total of 100 after two goals from Mohamed Salah and another from Jordan Henderson ended a spirited Brighton comeback.
Like so many of their 30 Premier League victories in the title-winning campaign, it was the finishing of Salah that was the difference here as the Egyptian kept alive his chances of winning a third successive Golden Boot after Leandro Trossard had pulled one back for the hosts before the break. But on a night when teenager Neco Williams had a difficult introduction to realities of top-flight football their manager will be relieved to have sealed yet another three points.
Klopp had insisted in the buildup that his players were not even thinking about breaking City’s points record, although in the same breath he also said they needed no reminding of the challenge facing them. With Liverpool’s defence of their Champions League crown already over, they are free to concentrate on attempting to surpass the total amassed by Pep Guardiola’s side during the 2017/18 season, not to mention the most number of victories (32) and biggest winning margin (19 points). That had been cut to 20 by City’s 5-0 thrashing of Newcastle earlier yet – no matter what Klopp says – the opportunity to erase their major rivals’ names from the record books must be a motivating factor to finish the season strongly.
The manager’s team selection here was recognition of that but also perhaps contained a nod to the future with the inclusion of 19-year-old Williams at left-back for his first Premier League start. Sadio Mané was rested as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was pushed into attack and captain Henderson restored in midfield.
The victory over Norwich on Saturday meant Brighton have already matched their points total from last season, even if Graham Potter is refusing to take anything for granted yet in terms of their survival. He made four changes, including a recall for the Argentina international Alexis Mac Allister and German Pascal Gross.
Born in Wrexham, Williams joined Liverpool at the age of six and has mainly been used as a right-back so far in his career. But he showed no signs of nerves despite his unfamiliar role and it was from the left flank that Brighton’s first mistake emanated in the fifth minute. Naby Keïta intercepted a sloppy pass from Davy Pröpper and was able to pick out Salah at the far post for a simple finish.
Adam Webster was the next to succumb to Liverpool’s high press within 60 seconds of the restart as his pass failed to find Mac Allister, with Henderson taking advantage with a brilliant curling shot from the edge of the penalty area. Understandably, Brighton looked shell-shocked. To their credit, however, they strived hard to find a way back into the game and it took an excellent block from Williams to deny a goal-bound shot from Trossard. Neal Maupay then came close after Trossard had instigated a quick break but Alisson did well to deny him from close range. The deserved breakthrough came on the stroke of half-time as the impressive Tariq Lamptey got the better of Williams and his cross was half-volleyed home by the Belgian.
Booked for tripping Lamptey and having been fortunate to escape a yellow card after another earlier challenge on the graduate of Chelsea’s academy, Williams was withdrawn at the break for Andrew Robertson.
Liverpool tried to begin the second half in the same vein as they had started the first but found Brighton a much tougher nut to crack. Salah came close to restoring their two-goal advantage after another precise pass from Keïta, only for Mat Ryan to come to his side’s rescue.
The Australian goalkeeper also did well to deal with a thumping volley from Henderson, while Dan Burn somehow contrived to miss an open goal from just six yards out at the other end after Liverpool had failed to clear a corner. Klopp threw on Mané in the hope of sealing the victory and only a last-ditch challenge from Lamptey stopped Salah setting him up for a goal with his very first touch.
Salah’s pinpoint header from Robertson’s corner finally settled the encounter to leave him just three behind Leicester’s Jamie Vardy in the Golden Boot standings with four games remaining. You certainly wouldn’t put it past him.