Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine
Brighton produced one of the most impressive early results of this Premier League season as they beat Manchester United 3-2 last weekend at the AMEX Stadium.
Glenn Murray and Shane Duffy made it 2-0 to the hosts before Romelu Lukaku’s strike was cancelled out by a Pascal Gross penalty, meaning Paul Pogba’s own stoppage time spot-kick couldn’t salvage a point for United.
Facing another top six side this week, Brighton travel to Anfield to try and dent Liverpool’s 100% record so far this season.
With the match offering Jurgen Klopp’s side a good chance to make it three wins from three, where will the game be won and lost as Brighton seek another improbable result? Here are three key battles that could be the difference between winning and losing:
Virgil van Dijk vs Glenn Murray
Two men coming off the back of performances as big as their frames, Virgil van Dijk and Glenn Murray will keep one another occupied during the fixture on Saturday evening.
Flicking in an early goal against Manchester United to get Brighton up and running, Murray was a thorn in Mourinho’s side all afternoon and is exactly the kind of striker that Liverpool have struggled against in recent seasons.
However, this Liverpool side has Virgil van Dijk.
Fresh from dominating Christian Benteke in the air at Selhurst Park, van Dijk is leading a Liverpool defence more adept at dealing with the long-ball threat than they have been in years.
Van Dijk wasn’t dribbled past once against Palace, completed eight clearances and won well over half of his aerial duels.
Having dealt with Benteke — dangerous regardless of the form he’s currently in — the Dutchman may fancy his chances of helping his side keep their goals conceded count at 0 for another week yet.
Brighton vs Their horrendous away form
As impressive as Brighton’s win against United was, it came in complete contrast to their opening day performance — a 2-0 defeat at Watford.
With Chris Hughton saying that his side had ‘no excuses’ following a game where they couldn’t manage a single shot on target, it left travelling fans with a familiar feeling.
Of Brighton’s 40 Premier League points last season, just 11 came away from home chief of which was the 4-0 hammering they received at Anfield on the final day as Mohamed Salah scored his record-breaking 32nd league goal.
It’s a problem they’ll surely be looking to manage over the course of the season to avoid again being so overreliant on their home form.
Unfortunately for Brighton, Anfield isn’t the ideal place to break a poor run of away form. Liverpool evidenced their home dominance with a 4-0 win against West Ham on the opening day and haven’t lost a league game at Anfield since April 2017.
Klopp’s men conceded just 10 league goals in front of their own supporters last season while Hughton’s side mustered just 10 strikes on the road themselves.
Gini Wijnaldum vs Pascal Gross
In a classic case of ‘something’s gotta give’, it’ll be interesting to see how Georginio Wijnaldum and Pascal Gross adapt to each other on Saturday.
Wijnaldum was used by Klopp as a deep-lying six against Manchester City in the Champions League last season when Jordan Henderson was suspended and has been played in the role a few times since.
With Fabinho still settling in and Henderson not quite match-fit, the former attacking midfielder will likely take up the position again against Brighton to mark the man who created the most chances outside of the top six last season, Pascal Gross.
Having been bought for just £3 million, Gross was an absolute revelation last season and found himself widely credited as the key figure in Brighton’s survival.
Scoring seven goals and laying on eight assists last season, Brighton’s danger man will have to be closely watched by Wijnaldum — or will he?
Equally, Wijnaldum’s ball-carrying ability is a rare talent for a defensive midfielder. Gross playing too high up could leave him isolated if Brighton can’t retain possession and Wijnaldum’s forward movements could leave the Seagulls exposed in midfield.
The start of Saturday’s game will most likely determine who wins out. Gross should expect to struggle if he can’t get Wijnaldum on the back-foot from the off.
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