Jack Hallows highlights the key battles to be expected when Liverpool FC host Chris Hutton’s Brighton in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.
Liverpool have started the Premier League season flawlessly so far, winning two from two, scoring six goals and not yet conceding in the process.
The Reds stormed to a 4-0 victory on the opening day when West Ham visited Anfield before grinding out a hard fought 2-0 victory last time out at Selhurst Park on Monday night.
Next up: Brighton.
The south coast club got off to a dreadful start on the opening weekend of the league, losing 2-0 away to Watford but they bounced back in sublime fashion last weekend, providing the shock of the round with a 3-2 victory over Manchester United.
Goals from Glenn Murray, Pascal Groß and Shane Duffy saw Chris Hutton’s men put three past David de Gea in a crazy first half blitz and while Paul Pogba scored a second for the Red Devils from the penalty spot late on, the result was never really in doubt.
It’s impossible to know exactly what the two lineups are going to be on the weekend but given Liverpool’s strong form and Brighton’s brilliant result last time out, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see both team’s field the exact same XIs as in their previous fixtures.
With that in mind, here are three key battles we can potentially expect to witness.
Glenn Murray VS Joe Gomez
He may be 34 years old but Glenn Murray has just continued to defy age the last 18 months or so.
The striker scored 12 goals in the Premier League last season, an impressive total for a newly promoted team – especially given he only started 25 games.
Opening his account against United last weekend courtesy of some smart movement and a deft finish, the former Bournemouth man could be a different kind of test for 21-year old centre back Joe Gomez.
The Englishman has been brilliant at centre half so far in the very early stages of this season, his partnership with Virgil van Dijk catching the eye of fans and pundits alike.
On the opening day, the pair kept an attacking trident of Felipe Anderson, Michael Antonio and Marko Arnautovic quiet before effectively nullifying the potentially deadly threat of Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha on Monday night.
Gomez will certainly have Murray for pace but the fixture could provide a real test of the young defender’s aerial prowess and ability to detect the striker’s intelligent, late movement.
I expect plenty of balls to come into the box from the likes of Anthony Knockhaert and Solly March on the wings so Gomez will have to be on top of his game to physically match Murray and keep the forward quiet.
Sadio Mané VS Martín Montoya
Sadio Mané has started the Premier League season like a bat out of hell.
The Senegalese winger has already notched three goals in the opening two games of the Premier League season and given that he managed to score in three in a row during the early stages of last campaign, I wouldn’t bet against him doing it again.
The former Southampton man has looked notably sharper during the very early stages of this campaign, with his pace, first touch and trickiness on the ball all seeming to have returned in full flow.
The man tasked with stopping the Senegalese winger is likely to be former Barcelona and Valencia right back Martín Montoya.
The 27-year-old has bags full of experience playing at a high level from his days in La Liga but he’ll have to be right on top of his game to try and hold down Mané.
The Reds’ no.10 is comfortable on both feet and Montoya will have to be careful not to get drawn in or commit to a challenge in any one direction or he risks the threat of seeing the winger hit the byline for a cut back or equally, cut inside onto his right foot and send a vicious effort towards the goal.
With three goals, six shots, five chances created and five successful dribbles across 172 minutes on the field, Mané represents Liverpool’s most in-form threat at the moment and I wouldn’t be surprised to see most of the Reds’ attacks go through him. Especially with Robertson and Naby Keïta operating in close proximity.
Pascal Groß VS Gini Wijnaldum/Jordan Henderson/Fabinho
Moving back into the midfield area of the pitch, whoever is fielded as Liverpool’s ‘6’ on Saturday afternoon is going to have to keep a close eye on German playmaker Pascal Groß.
Groß operates as a ’10’ for Brighton and was the main source of creativity for the Seagulls last season contributing seven goals and eight assists while providing an average of 2.2 key passes per 90 minutes.
A key attribute of Liverpool’s improved defensive record of late has been the shutting down of opposition playmakers, limiting the number of quality chances that other teams have against the Reds and cutting supply lines, leaving strikers frustrated and isolated.
Gini Wijnaldum has started the season as the Reds’ deepest lying midfielder as Fabinho continues his integration and Jordan Henderson continues his belated new season preparations and has in fairness, been almost faultless so far.
The Dutchman has made 3 completed tackles and an interception off the ball, while completing 92% of his passes, creating one chance and completing three dribbles when in possession.
Most impressively, however, has been the way in which he and James Milner rotate position depending on passages of play with one of the pair always found shielding the back four and limiting space for opposition attackers.
If indeed Wijnaldum makes it a third start from three on Saturday, he’ll need to ensure he does his usual to keep Groß from working angles and dictating the play in the Seagulls’ attacking third.