Liverpool's season left in tatters! Winners, losers & ratings as Salah slump continues in FA Cup defeat to Brighton
In a season of suffering, the FA Cup provided yet another slap in the face for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool.
Their reign as holders is over, ended at the fourth round stage by Brighton, after Kaoru Mitoma’s stoppage-time goal condemned them to a 2-1 defeat at the Amex Stadium.
Harvey Elliott had given the Reds a first-half lead, finishing off a fine pass from Mohamed Salah, only for Lewis Dunk to divert Tariq Lamptey’s 25-yard strike past a wrong-footed Alisson Becker to level matters before the break.
Both sides missed chances in the second period, and the game appeared to be drifting towards a stalemate until in the 93rd minute, Pervis Estupinan’s clipped cross reached Mitoma at the back post, and the brilliant Japanese international showed incredible composure to take a touch before stabbing a volley past Alisson from close range.
It felt tough on Klopp’s side, who competed well throughout and were unrecognisable from the side battered here in the Premier League earlier this month, but it is merely the latest setback in a campaign that is fast becoming a nightmare at Anfield.
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It was fitting that the game’s best player should provide the game’s decisive moment. Liverpool won’t want to run into Mitoma any time soon, that’s for sure. The Japan star had terrorised them in the league meeting a fortnight ago, and he did so again here, his speed and elusive dribbling too much for Trent Alexander-Arnold, who was substituted in a huff before the hour mark. James Milner, his replacement, fared little better, with only a brilliant block from Alisson denying Solly March a goal after Mitoma had delivered a peach of a cross with the outside of his right foot. There was, however, to be a late sting in the tale, and what coolness Mitoma showed to control Estupinan’s cross and fire home at the death. He’s some player, this lad. The big question, surely, is how long Brighton can hang on to him, and where on earth he’s been until now?
What a difference a week makes. Having looked like a fish out of water on the left of Liverpool’s attack against Chelsea, Elliott was asked to go again here, and fared much better. The 19-year-old is not a natural out there, by any means, but having been the Reds’ matchwinner in the third-round replay at Wolves, he was on target again at the Amex, drifting infield to good effect to latch onto Mohamed Salah’s neat pass and finishing well on his right foot. It was his fifth goal of the season - only Salah, Darwin Nunez and Roberto Firmino have more - and might have been followed by a sixth before half-time, with only a good recovery tackle from Tariq Lamptey denying him. There was also a sublime through ball for Salah, which the Egyptian failed to convert, and while he is not a natural defender, there was plenty of endeavour off the ball before he was replaced by Jordan Henderson just before the hour mark.
Five scoreless games to start his Liverpool career, but small steps are what the Reds are after, what they’re clinging to, at the moment, and here we had the clearest indication of where Gakpo may fit into this team, and the kind of things he might bring. The Dutchman, as he did at Wolves in the last round, and against Chelsea last weekend, started as the Reds’ No.9, instructed to connect the game by drifting deep, and to prevent Brighton playing into midfield easily by crowding Alexis Mac Allister and Pascal Gross. He did it well, too. There were signs of a growing understanding with Salah, in particular, and Klopp will have been pleased to see the new boy showing the confidence to turn and slip away from defenders in the middle of the pitch, driving forward with purpose and speed. There was to be no end product, as it turned out, and that’s the next box he needs to start ticking, but Gakpo was certainly one of the better performers in red today.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s face said it all. Not happy. There was less than an hour on the clock and the fourth official’s board had gone up, showing the No.66. The England man didn’t offer an open show of dissent towards his manager, but he certainly didn’t disguise his disappointment. Another game gone, another game searching for form and rhythm and happiness. Alexander-Arnold had not been especially poor here - he saved Liverpool with a goal-line clearance in the first half - but it says plenty about the Reds’ struggles, and their inability to get their full-backs into the game in an attacking sense, that they would be willing to take off a potential game-changer with the cup tie poised at 1-1. Andy Robertson, too, offered little by way of threat, pinned back by Solly March and overworked defensively as it turned out. Not a day to play full-back, this one.
It should really have been the briefest of cameos. Fabinho entered the field in the 84th minute, and he should have been leaving it in the 87th with a straight red card. How the VAR, Neil Swarbrick, didn’t deem his raking challenge down the achilles of Evan Ferguson to be worthy of dismissal, only he knows. Even Fabinho looked like he expected to be sent off, while Ferguson hobbled off, lucky not to have picked up a serious injury. Unintentional, certainly, but the Brazilian can count himself very fortunate not to be looking at a suspension.
Another game, another blank for Liverpool’s star man, whose form continues to worry. In fairness, this was a game in which Salah should have ended his recent drought. He was denied by a goal-line clearance from Lewis Dunk early on, and sent through by Harvey Elliott soon after. His finish, though, was poor, indicative of a player lacking confidence despite his remarkable goalscoring record. He never stops working, Salah, and he must look at the mess going on around him and wonder what the hell has happened, but his second half here summed things up right now. He was on the periphery, hoping rather than expecting. Liverpool need to get him firing again quickly.
How to ruin a relationship with a club and its supporters, in one easy step. Caicedo wasn’t present here, having been told by Brighton to stay away until the transfer window closes. The Ecuador international is trying to force through a move to Arsenal, who saw a £60 million ($74m) bid rejected earlier this week, but he would be well advised to be careful what he wishes for. The attraction of the Emirates Stadium (or indeed Stamford Bridge) is clear, but as Yves Bissouma and Marc Cucurella would tell you, the grass isn’t always greener. Brighton are the club that gave Caicedo his platform in European football, and play with a style and a confidence that has allowed the 21-year-old to flourish. He'd do well to remember that, but something tells me he won't.
Liverpool Ratings: Defence
Alisson Becker (7/10):
Helpless with the deflection for the equaliser, but otherwise solid. Brilliant block from March at 1-1, and then beaten by Mitoma from close range at the end. Blameless.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (5/10):
Perfectly placed to clear from the line from Ferguson, but was again tormented by the speed and trickery of Mitoma, and didn't offer a great deal going forward.
Joe Gomez (6/10):
Did well defensively for the most part and was secure in possession, save for one loose clearance straight to Ferguson late on.
Ibrahima Konate (7/10):
Looked assured when asked to run back towards his own goal, and defended on the front foot with aggression. Goal-saving block to deny Ferguson.
Andy Robertson (5/10):
Quiet in the first half, when he was preoccupied with the threat of March and Lamptey. More prominent after the break.
Stefan Bajcetic (6/10):
Did well to walk the tightrope after an early booking. Provided bite and pressing, but can use the ball much better than he did here.
Naby Keita (7/10):
Made a good start, setting up Salah for a chance, and his tenacity led to the opening goal. Faded in the second half and was replaced early, but he is well worth his shirt at the moment. Brings a bit of thrust to the midfield.
Thiago Alcantara (5/10):
Some classy touches, but tried to be too clever for his own good at times, and didn't dictate the rhythm of the game as he can.
Mohamed Salah (6/10):
Lively early on, and denied by a goal-line clearance. Missed a good chance when clean through, but soon produced a lovely pass to set up Elliott for the opener.
Harvey Elliott (7/10):
Fine pass to create a chance for Salah, and then a smart run and finish to open the scoring. Denied another by Lamptey's tackle, and did well generally.
Cody Gakpo (7/10):
Promising signs of an understanding developing with Salah, and showed confidence to carry the ball from deep. Now needs to add a killer touch.
Subs & Manager
James Milner (6/10):
Came on and almost created a goal for Salah immediately. Struggled against Mitoma, but who wouldn't right now?
Darwin Nunez (5/10):
Scruffy cameo. No real threat.
Jordan Henderson (6/10):
Added some tempo initially, but his awful pass out to the left wing after Brighton's winning goal was not what was needed at all.
Curtis Jones (5/10):
Came on late and didn't do much.
Came on and should have been sent off within three minutes for a poor challenge on Ferguson. Sums up his season, you could say.
Jurgen Klopp (6/10):
Sprung a surprise by sticking with Elliott on the left, but was rewarded. Alexander-Arnold sub was a strange one.