Confusion. Confusion on the pitch and confusion off the pitch. A lot of modern football, especially as practised by managers such as Jürgen Klopp and Roberto De Zerbi, seems to be about, if not controlling confusion, then at least directing it, pushing the confusion into the right areas. But a lot of modern football also involves people staring at screens and realising laws that once seemed to resonate with the rectitude of the ages are slippery and ambiguous.
Would Liverpool be affected by the video assistant referee controversy of last week? Would their fury and sense of disillusionment curdle into something self‑destructive? Might it even galvanise them? The truth is it barely seemed to make a difference at all. This was Liverpool as they have been for most of the season, a blend of brilliance and vulnerability that makes them look at times like title contenders while the sense lingers that this cannot be sustained.
Five times already this season they have gone behind and come back to win and, until Lewis Dunk turned in Solly March’s free-kick with 12 minutes remaining, it looked very much like being a sixth. Had Ryan Gravenberch not hit the bar from close range eight minutes into the second half, it surely would have been. That speaks well of their resilience and character, and rather less well of their defensive capabilities.
Was it a fair result? “Unfortunately, yes,” Klopp said. “Because we didn’t score the third we kept the game open. It was intense for both teams. I think the right result.”
Brighton have been just as mercurial this season, thrilling yet open, never more than a couple of seconds from scoring, never more than a couple of seconds from conceding. A euphoric feel pervades the Amex, a sense that they cannot quite believe their elevation to the European stage. But three games without a win before Sunday had made clear the strain.
De Zerbi has never been afraid of juggling his resources, but six changes from the side that drew in Marseille on Thursday took the sum of his changes over the past six games to 36. He said: “Brighton played with personality, with courage, with a clear idea and a lot of young players. It’s a great result when you don’t lose to Liverpool but I think we deserved the points more.”
This was a game defined by pressing and by both sides conceding possession in trying to pass out from the back. Brighton, who seemed in control for most of the first half, went ahead as Simon Adingra intercepted Virgil van Dijk’s ball to Alexis Mac Allister and rolled the ball in from 30 yards as Alisson, who had squared the ball to Van Dijk, failed to get back. It was a goal born of Brighton’s press, of the alertness and composure of Adingra, of poor pass selection and a lack of awareness.
Impressive as Brighton have been this season, they began the game having conceded more than anybody outside the bottom four. Theirs is a high-risk way of playing, but there is also a self-destructiveness about them; when Dunk’s pass was intercepted by Mac Allister, five minutes before half-time, they were exposed. Mohamed Salah took advantage.