Premier League

Roberto Firmino on target twice as Liverpool fire five past Brighton

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Roberto Firmino on target twice as Liverpool fire five past Brighton” was written by Paul Doyle at the Amex Stadium, for The Observer on Saturday 2nd December 2017 17.08 UTC

Liverpool, sporting a new look, paraded their attacking brio on the south coast, as Roberto Firmino scored twice and Emre Can and Phillipe Coutinho also found the net, to secure an emphatic victory. Lewis Dunk’s 89th-minute own goal wrapped up the scoring for the Reds.

Brighton had not been beaten at home since losing to Manchester City on the opening day of the season, but were outclassed here, even if an improved second-half performance yielded them a goal through a penalty by Glenn Murray.

Liverpool wore their familiar red kit but Jürgen Klopp gave them a radical makeover. The surprising thing was not that he made six personnel changes from the midweek victory at Stoke City – rotation was always likely, given that they have a decisive Champions League tie against Spartak Moscow on Wednesday – but rather that he introduced a new formation, which featured Can and Georgino Wijnaldum in a three-man central defence with Dejan Lovren. The scheme was partly imposed on Klopp by Joel Matip’s injury and Ragnar Klavan’s illness and, with Can and Wijnaldum both relative strangers to the role, it gave Liverpool’s defence a decidedly avant-garde look.

That shape was mostly notional, of course, as Liverpool were bewilderingly fluid when in possession, which was most of the time. Brighton found it quite the brain-teaser, utterly stumped by the visitors’ speed and movement, especially in the first half. Seventeen goals so far this season may have amounted to generous forewarning of Mohamed Salah’s threat but, nonetheless, it took less than 30 seconds for the Egyptian to fire off his first shot. Dunk flung himself in front of it to make a block. Already it seemed unlikely that Brighton would hold out for the whole match.

Three minutes later, Salah was back again, pouncing on a deflected pass by Coutinho before bringing a close-range save from Mathew Ryan. Coutinho took the ensuing corner, depositing the ball on the head of Firmino, who should have found the target from six yards out, but instead sent the ball over the bar.

It took Brighton 17 minutes to expose uncertainty in Liverpool’s newfangled defence, but Murray miscued from eight yards out after Can and Lovren had failed to cut out a cross by Izzy Brown.

That was the last glimpse that Brighton got of Liverpool’s goal before the match was put beyond them by two goals in 79 seconds. On the half-hour, Can stomped up from the back to send a powerful header into the net from a corner by Coutinho.

Less than two minutes later, Liverpool doubled their lead through a deadly counterattack, Salah leading the charge before flipping the ball wide to Coutinho, whose low pass from the left was turned into the net by Firmino.

With Sadio Mané resting on the bench, Coutinho was the ringmaster as Liverpool began to enjoy themselves. The Brazilian almost ridiculed opponents with his trickery, bobbing and weaving around them in a way that made them seem oafish. And when a Brighton player tried to express himself on the ball, several players in red usually descended on him to put an end to his pretences.

When Coutinho pinched the ball off Bruno just before half-time and popped it on to Salah, Brighton were grateful that Dunk managed to foil the forward’s attempted shot.

Liverpool’s habit of frittering away leads means opponents will always hope for a comeback. Brighton evidently still believed it was possible when they emerged after half-time and their faith would have been rewarded within two minutes if not for a brilliant save by Simon Mignolet.

Brown created the chance by sneaking into the space behind the right wing-back, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Murray seemed certain to score when he met the incoming cross with a volley from five yards out. But Mignolet saved with his feet – and before Brighton knew it, they were three goals down, as Liverpool raced up the other end and Firmino applied an emphatic finish after being served by Salah.

Even then, Brighton did not abandon all hope. Three minutes later they narrowed the gap. This time it was Liverpool who did not quite grasp what was happening. Referee Graham Scott awarded the home team a penalty for an offence he saw as the ball floated in from a corner. Liverpool’s defenders looked bemused, but Murray asked no questions and converted the penalty matter-of-factly.

With nearly 40 minutes to go there was still scope for Liverpool to disintegrate. Instead they threatened to blow Brighton to pieces with repeated counterattacks.

Ryan had to make a good save from Salah after one lightning raid, and Dunk threw himself in front of a shot by Coutinho after another.

Brighton were not submissive, however, and went close a couple of more times themselves, notably when Murray hooked a shot inches wide. But Liverpool underlined their superiority in the 86th minute, when Coutinho curled a free-kick under the home team’s wall and into the net.

There was still time for him to fire in another shot that was steered in by the luckless Dunk.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010