Negative substitutions, careless challenges and predictable Liverpool


    So, our cup runneth over. There was something utterly predictable about the outcome of our return visit to Brighton, on a day when we weren’t all that bad for the first 75 minutes.

    Was this a good performance for those first 75 minutes, or one that was just not as bad as our performances generally have been across a widely lamentable season? The answer to that question is totally open to interpretation.

    For much of the first half, I felt pretty upbeat about our performance against Brighton. Plenty of positivity of movement, no shortage of hustle when out of possession, a fine goal scored, and strong in our defending.

    For some time, it felt like a game that was ours to win.

    However, we would go on to end it having retained less possession than our hosts, having made fewer efforts at goal, and with fewer of those efforts being on target.

    More importantly, we ended it by having scored fewer goals than a team that beat us convincingly in the Premier League a fortnight ago.

    First 75, last 15

    BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 29, 2023: Liverpool's Harvey Elliott celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 29, 2023: Liverpool's Harvey Elliott celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    Before it all went wrong, Harvey Elliott again proved to be the man for the FA Cup with a fine goal; yet he continues to be a perplexing conundrum.

    He is not quite a midfielder of presence and not quite an attacker of supreme intent, but he deals well in the big moments. He could feasibly score 20 goals a season and still leave you struggling to comprehend what he brings to the team as a whole.

    This on a day when he laid in Mo Salah with an excellent opportunity for a second Liverpool goal that went untaken. It kind of makes Elliott a vague footballing reincarnation of David Platt.

    He is utterly invaluable at the moment though.

    Another plus was Cody Gakpo, who is imposing himself more and more with each passing game, yet he still needs that performance of genesis where he truly bonds with his teammates, and that one piece of telling genius that ensures he bonds with the supporters.

    BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 29, 2023: Liverpool's Stefan Bajcetic is shown a yellow card by referee David Coote during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 29, 2023: Liverpool's Stefan Bajcetic is shown a yellow card by referee David Coote during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    Gakpo’s introduction at Anfield has so far been nothing like the love-at-first-sight experience that we embraced this time last year with Luis Diaz. But then nothing is as it was this time last year.

    As a collective, we were pretty decent in the first half, less effective in the second half, and second-best in all scenarios across the course of the last 10 to 15 minutes, where only Brighton looked likely to snare a winner.

    Although not immediately obvious, the deflection for the equaliser was the pivot upon which the game turned away from us. When Lewis Dunk diverted that ball beyond Alisson, we could claim with a straight face that we were hard done by.

    BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 29, 2023: Brighton & Hove Albion's Kaoru Mitoma scores the winning second goal during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. Brighton won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 29, 2023: Brighton & Hove Albion's Kaoru Mitoma scores the winning second goal during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. Brighton won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    From here, we don’t do enough to win the game, while neither do we really do enough to deserve to lose it.

    An unwanted replay would probably have been a fair outcome.

    But given the weight of some of the challenges we put in across those final few minutes – especially by Andy Robertson and Fabinho – then maybe we goaded Karma into her cruel, late, final twist to the tale when Kaoru Mitoma made Joe Gomez resemble Titus Bramble a little too convincingly for comfort when scoring Brighton’s injury time winner.

    Negative subs, negative impact

    BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 29, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp makes a triple substitute bringing on captain Jordan Henderson, Darwin Núñez and James Milner during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 29, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp makes a triple substitute bringing on captain Jordan Henderson, Darwin Núñez and James Milner during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    Ultimately, Jurgen Klopp’s substitutions were negatively key to the outcome of the game.

    The more the physical demands of the afternoon caught up to Stefan Bajcetic, the more Brighton gained the upper hand, but the badly out-of-form Fabinho proved to be the gift that kept on giving, and despite only appearing in the 85th minute, the Brazilian international was fortunate to remain on the pitch until the final whistle.

    Fabinho was an accident waiting to happen, throwing himself around in what could easily have been construed to be a deliberate mission to get sent off.

    Almost as if it were a Sunday morning pub team he was turning out for, on a day when only 10 players have shown up, he’s hungover, thought the game would be called off due to a waterlogged pitch and didn’t expect to be called upon to play.

    BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 29, 2023: Liverpool's Cody Gakpo (L) applauds the supporters as captain Jordan Henderson looks dejected after the FA Cup 4th Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. Brighton won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 29, 2023: Liverpool's Cody Gakpo (L) applauds the supporters as captain Jordan Henderson looks dejected after the FA Cup 4th Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. Brighton won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    To be fair, given our current circumstances, that maybe isn’t far from the truth. It was certainly no coincidence that matters took a turn for the regressive when that triple substitution was made just before the hour mark.

    The late switch of Curtis Jones for Thiago was another decision that paid no dividends. As far as interventions go, not one of those who entered the fray offered something better than what those who were withdrawn had provided.

    With the defence of the two cups that we won last season over, in domestic terms, we are now left with just 19 Premier League games with which to claw 2023/24 Champions League football from the jaws of further failure.

    BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 29, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the pre-match warm-up before the FA Cup 4th Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 29, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the pre-match warm-up before the FA Cup 4th Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    Unsettlingly, our next three league games involve a Merseyside derby which will be sandwiched by trips to Wolves and Newcastle.

    Beyond that, in February we will go full circle in the 2022/23 Champions League when we once again face our Stade de France demons, reunited as we will be with Real Madrid.

    The first of two games that might just be win-or-bust encounters by then.

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