15:00 BST, Sunday 13th May, Anfield (Liverpool, England) Sky Sports Main Event
The Reds come into this fixture having been afforded a full week’s rest for the first time in almost a month. Having won only one of their last five league games (L1, D3) it appears this fixture congestion has derailed their form at the tail-end of the season.
After failing to score in their two previous league matches, Jürgen Klopp’s side go into their final league fixture with one eye on Chelsea but in full knowledge, they can seal their own fate with a win over Brighton.
Chris Hughton’s Seagulls sealed their own fate with two games to spare this season, an unexpected win over Manchester United securing their top-flight status against many people’s expectations.
A taste of reality greeted them in Manchester on Wednesday, however, they can add one final unexpected flourish to their season if they can win away from home for only the third time in the Premier League.
Last Time Out
Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool (Premier League)
Liverpool gave an exhausted display against a professionally-minded Chelsea who ground them down to defeat. Sadio Mané was perhaps the pick of the players for the Reds in-keeping with his recent form, however, each player was relatively flat by their own standards.
Mohamed Salah was particularly quiet in attack, offering almost none of the threat which has marked him out as a special talent this season.
Nathaniel Clyne was also poor in a rare start and possibly played a part in why Salah, who was playing ahead of him on the right wing, was so ineffective.
The deciding goal came in the 32nd minute, a header which Olivier Giroud dominated the Liverpool defence to meet a fine cross onto their box.
The Reds then enjoyed better possession but without the required nous or urgency to break down a Chelsea team who were set up to defend their lead.
Manchester City 3-1 Brighton & Hove Albion (Premier League)
The Seagulls fell under the champion's sword as Brighton were defeated but with their pride kept intact. After their attacking strategy which was deployed against Manchester United, Hughton opted for an all-out defensive approach in this match.
The first two goals scored by City still came in the first half and both came as a result of mistakes by their left back, Gaëtan Bong. Between these two strikes, loan-striker Leonardo Ulloa scored his first goal of the season to restore parity and there was still hope in the Brighton camp as they went into half time trailing by a goal.
The third goal arrived in the 72nd minute after a period of sustained pressure from the hosts. Coming from a corner which City took short and quickly, it was a lapse of concentration which proved costly for Brighton on this occasion.
Fernandinho’s goal proved to be the final nail in this game, ending it a contest although Brighton maintained their resilience until the final whistle.
Joe Gomez (arm) Joel Matip (thigh) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) Emre Can (back) and Adam Lallana (thigh) remain unavailable which could see Klopp field his strongest lineup before an intention of withdrawing his key players through substitutions after establishing a lead.
The Long-term injuries of Izzy Brown (knee) and Steve Sidwell (back) are the only thing preventing Hughton from having a clean slate of health amongst his squad for their final match. There could be minor tweaks in the side from their midweek game with both Glenn Murray and Ezequiel Schelotto potentially returning to the starting lineup.
Key Battle: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) vs Ezequiel Schelotto (Brighton)
He may not have scored in either of Liverpool’s previous two matches but Salah will prove a major threat for the Seagulls.
The Egyptian has not gone for more than two league games without a goal, this being only the second occasion he’s suffered such a drought, and it will be a record he doesn’t want to break on the final weekend.
With three more goals than Harry Kane, he appears ready to pick up the golden boot award, however, three goals behind Lionel Messi and with Barcelona having two more fixtures, he’s highly unlikely to claim this year’s golden shoe award.
Looking to snuff out the danger of Salah, Hughton could well turn to Schelotto. Brighton captain, Bruno, has been the preferred choice at right-back in recent weeks but at 37-years-old, the Spanish defender could make way for the much faster alternative that is Schelotto.
After joining the club from Sporting Lisbon last summer, the Argentine has also shown a willingness to support attacks which could also help his side exploit the lack of defensive discipline in Salah’s game.
There will not be the level of anxiety in this match that there could have been due to Chelsea’s midweek failure, however, nerves will still be running through some of the Liverpool player's minds at 14:55 on Sunday afternoon.
With the biggest game of the last 13 years waiting in the wings for Liverpool, the fact that this game is not a dead-rubber event could help them stay focused on the task at hand.
Failure to apply themselves could, ironically, see them pick up injuries or lose form which are the very two things most players will be most fearful of. The old cliché by John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach of yesteryear, that winning breeds winning remains as true now as it ever was.
For players such as Trent Alexander-Arnold who let their nerves get the better of them in the Champions League semi-final two weeks ago, this will be yet another learning curve which will serve them well in the future.
Seagulls secret weapon
There have been some outstanding individual contributions among the Brighton squad this season. Some of these are made more impressive by the way in which they’ve fit straight into a new team and a new league following their summer transfer.
The most impressive of all, however, has been that of their manager, Chris Hughton. Nominated on the short-list for this season’s manager of the season award, Hughton has been the force which has brought together the ingredients of Brighton’s relative successes this year.
While his approach has been questioned by some fans and commentators throughout this season, it is his long-term vision which has guided the club forward.
His pragmatic and defensive approach may not be universally appreciated by neutral football fans, however, he more than deserves the spotlight from the awards for the efforts he has brought to fruition.
Prediction: Liverpool 1-0 Brighton & Hove Albion
Brighton will be a stubborn obstacle for Liverpool to take on this weekend, and they could well prosper if the Reds do not fully commit themselves to this game.
With a need to take at least a point, Liverpool have the attacking talent to be able to break down their opponents, however, the Seagulls have struggled on the road this season, especially scoring goals, and the same quality can’t be levelled at them