BRIGHTON, England — Liverpool‘s FA Cup defence ended on Sunday as Brighton & Hove Albion scored a stoppage-time winner in a thrilling 2-1 victory at the Amex Stadium (stream a replay live on ESPN+, U.S. only.)
However, Brighton struck back just before half-time through a Tariq Lamptey strike which deflected in off Lewis Dunk. Brighton winger Kaoru Mitoma hit a late winner, taking down a cross from Pervis Estupinan before firing home and sparking wild celebrations.
1. Liverpool’s troubles continue, another trophy chance goes.
Jurgen Klopp has enjoyed a trophy-laden tenure at Liverpool, but his best chance of salvaging some silverware this season was in the FA Cup. Well, that hope is over in the fourth round.
Liverpool were knocked out of the Carabao Cup in December and have dropped to ninth in the Premier League — an alarming 21 points behind leaders Arsenal, even though Klopp somehow insisted this week they had not yet given up on the title. Their final hope at glory now lies in the Champions League, but they face a daunting task in familiar foes Real Madrid in the round of 16. It all makes for grim reading.
They again looked lacklustre in Brighton. Liverpool had won all 12 games this season when they have scored the opening goal, and it looked to be going well when Elliott netted on 30 minutes, but that was as good as it got.
Klopp fumed on the touchline for much of the game as Liverpool looked sloppy, lacking in confidence. It’s clear to see why. Sunday’s defeat means Liverpool have just three wins in nine since the return after the World Cup and the season appears to be running away from them.
It was after Liverpool’s FA Cup triumph over Chelsea last May that they had their world at their feet, two games away from a historic Quadruple, before their hopes were swiftly dashed by Manchester City and Real Madrid. Next month, when they face Madrid for the first time since that defeat, Liverpool could scarcely look more different.
2. Brighton show quality as Caicedo speculation continues
It’s been a tough week at Brighton. Amid an excellent run in which they’ve scored two or more goals in their previous six games — including a 3-0 trouncing of Liverpool in the Premier League earlier this month – and a push to qualify for European football, the Seagulls again found themselves warding off bids for one of their best players. This time, it was midfielder Moises Caicedo.
The Ecuador international was missing for this game, with sources telling ESPN that Brighton have told the player not to return to training until after the January window as Arsenal and Chelsea both show firm interest. On social media, Caicedo has made clear he wishes to leave.
Brighton would be forgiven for wondering whether they would cope without him, yet they continued to show why they are banging on the door of the top six.
Brighton lost Marc Cucurella to Chelsea and Yves Bissouma to Tottenham last summer. Then head coach Graham Potter was poached by Chelsea in September and Leandro Trossard, also with grander ambitions, forced a move away to Arsenal earlier this month. Through it all, Brighton have replaced, adapted and improved.
Tariq Lamptey flew forward with pace and skill from right back, 2022 World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister looked assured in the middle of the park next to Pascal Gross, while forward Kaoru Mitoma remained a danger throughout.
A difficult week ends with a place in the fifth round of the FA Cup and their fans singing “We’re going to Wembley.”
3. Salah’s goal-scoring woes continue
Before the match, Klopp said Salah has struggled to deal with Liverpool’s front-three change this season, with Sadio Mane being sold to Bayern Munich in the summer and replaced by Darwin Nunez from Benfica and, more recently, Cody Gakpo from PSV.
Salah’s struggles continued on Sunday. He looked lively throughout but could not find a finishing touch. He saw a chance blocked off the line in the opening five minutes, and then ran through one-on-one but dragged his shot wide of the right post. In the second half, he again found himself inside Brighton’s penalty box and staring at goalkeeper Jason Steele, but he lacked any final product and saw the move breakdown.
He looked at the sky and laughed afterward, as if to ask himself what was going wrong? Salah’s drought in front of goal now stands at five games in all competitions.
It’s an issue affecting Liverpool’s entire front line. Nunez replaced goal scorer Elliott on 59 minutes, with Salah and Gakpo kept on to play alongside him, but the new-look trio failed to scare Brighton.
Best and worst performers
Kaoru Mitoma, FW, Brighton: Looked sharp and creative on Brighton’s left wing, and a fitting scorer for the late winner.
Solly March, MF, Brighton: Summed up everything Brighton did well; bright, creative and direct.
Alexis Mac Allister, MF, Brighton: While Caicedo attracts bids from the Premier League elite, Mac Allister continued to show real quality through the middle.
Pervis Estupinan, DF, Brighton: Given the difficult task of pushing high up when in attack but needing to defend Salah going the other way, and struggled throughout. Did provide the cross for Mitoma’s winner.
Cody Gakpo, FW, Liverpool: Pedestrian performance in which he rarely posed a threat.
Andy Robertson, DF, Liverpool: Very rarely pushed forward, but struggled to keep March and Lamptey quiet on Brighton’s right.
Highlights and notable moments
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) January 29, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
Jurgen Klopp: “We came here after a couple of weeks, which was one of the worst performances in my time here, so today it was much better, but still we conceded two goals from set pieces.
“So now we closed the gaps where they passed through last time, but they scored from set pieces.”
He added: “We still have space for improvement. We make steps but we have to improve, we have to go further on and we will do that.”
Roberto de Zerbi: “I think the most important thing in football is blood, heart and balls [spirit]. To progess and become a great team you have to win this game, you can think it is nice to win the game, but it is not like this. If we want to become bigger, but you have to understand the game and it is more important the improvement.
“We are a good team. We are not like Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool or Chelsea. We are not the same level, but we want to improve, to fight in the last part of the season.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
– Harvey Elliott has scored Liverpool’s last two FA Cup goals, scoring the winner against Wolves in their third round replay on Jan. 17. The goal against Brighton was the 850th in all competitions under Klopp’s management.
– Elliott is the only player to feature in all 31 of Liverpool’s games this season.
– Liverpool had won all 12 games this season when scoring the opening goal of the game, a record now broken by Brighton.
– Mitoma now has six goals in his last 10 games in all competitions after failing to score in his first nine games for Brighton
Brighton: Next up it’s a south-coast derby as Brighton welcome struggling Bournemouth to the Amex on Saturday, before they face arch rivals Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Feb. 11.
Liverpool: Klopp will take on Wolves for the third time in less than a month when Liverpool visit Molineux on Saturday, then on Feb. 13 it’s the small matter of the Merseyside derby at Anfield.