Mitoma’s magical winner for Brighton delivers knockout blow to Liverpool

According to The Guardian : Mitoma’s magical winner for Brighton delivers knockout blow to Liverpool

Just when Jürgen Klopp thought that things could not get any worse for his Liverpool team and, especially, here on the south coast. When they were last here two weeks ago, the 3-0 Premier League defeat was, to paraphrase the manager, a historic low. Klopp could not remember a worse performance by one of his teams, Liverpool’s traumatic season suffering one of its deepest cuts.

Mitoma’s magical winner for Brighton delivers knockout blow to Liverpool

It was a big reason why this FA Cup tie mattered so much. And yet from a position of strength, a goal to the good through Harvey Elliott, they were reeled in by a Brighton team that are attracting fresh superlatives from week to week.

Lewis Dunk had scored for 1-1 before half-time and it was Brighton who pushed in the final 20 minutes of the second half, sensing vulnerability in a Liverpool team which has been exactly that all season. It looked as though Liverpool would hang on. Alisson had denied the outstanding Solly March while Ibrahima Konate had thrown himself into a block to keep out Evan Ferguson.

Liverpool got away with a few, not least a challenge from Konaté on Alexis Mac Allister that looked like a last-man foul. The substitute Fabinho was horribly late on Ferguson – escaping with a yellow card; the 18-year-old forced off in obvious distress – while Andy Robertson was also booked for a bad one on Mac Allister.

How Brighton made him pay. From the free-kick, Pervis Estupiñan – in space beyond the far post – sent the ball back across and, after substitute Deniz Undav had tussled with Robertson, there was Kaoru Mitoma to pull it down. What followed was a blur of technical brilliance, the winger coming inside with a right-footed touch and then, with the same boot, picking out the far, top corner.

Lewis Dunk celebrates after diverting Tariq Lamptey’s shot past Alisson to score Brighton’s equaliser. Photograph: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty Images

There would be a VAR check for an offside against Estupiñán and, when he was ruled on, the roars could have been heard in Liverpool. Brighton march on. The holders are out.

Brighton had been portrayed as the pre-match favorites in some quarters and that probably talked to what happened here the last time. But it reflected the broader trajectories of both clubs, with Brighton’s alchemy nothing short of extraordinary.

Since the start of the season, they have lost their manager and most of the coaching staff, important recruiting personnel, their biggest-name defender, main midfielder, top scorer and a key creator. It looks as though their star winger is on his way, too; there was no sign of Moisés Caicedo, as expected, as Arsenal and Chelsea circle. And they’ve gotten better.

Liverpool wanted to change the narrative and Mohamed Salah was in the mood from the first whistle. He got in off at the right time and again and it was his run and pass that sliced Brighton apart for Elliott’s breakthrough goal. The home team cannot say they were not warned.

Salah’s first attempts had come early on. He had a shot blocked by Adam Webster and, on the rebound, it opened up for him again. This time, Brighton were saved by a stretching clearance on the goalline by Dunk. Salah really should have scored on 25 minutes. Elliott played the final pass and it was a beauty, releasing Salah in behind the Brighton backline only for him to drag past the far post.

Brighton might have led first themselves and they played a full part in a lively first half. Their confidence on the ball was pronounced; first-time passes and flicks on point, movements quick and incisive. Tariq Lamptey and Estupiñán were under orders to bomb forward from the full-back positions and, with Danny Welbeck up front alongside Ferguson, it was a bold, can-do approach from Roberto De Zerbi

March, who is in the form of his life, crossed low from the right and, after Welbeck had somehow failed to convert, Ferguson took a touch and unloaded. Trent Alexander-Arnold was on the line to clear, with Alisson beaten. Mitoma, so impressive on the other flank, went close after swapping passes with Ferguson.

Liverpool menaced on the break, Brighton’s interventions sometimes a little last-ditch, and Elliott’s goal followed a clearance from Naby Keïta to Salah. Elliott timed the run in behind, Salah’s pass was perfect and the finish found the far corner, via the fingertips of Jason Steele.

Brighton deserved to be level at the interval, the equaliser following a low Lamptey blast after Alexander-Arnold had half-cleared. It was going wide until Dunk touched instinctively towards goal, wrong-footing Alisson. Lamptey was all-action and it was his saving tackle that kept out Elliott just before half-time. Cody Gakpo, playing in the No 9 role, had released him; Elliott’s second touch took him too close to Lamptey.

Klopp watched Dunk wobble a free-kick wide after the restart and Pascal Gross lifted high. The Liverpool manager made a triple change – James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Darwin Núñez on; Alexander-Arnold, one of those to make way, looking distinctly unhappy.

Gakpo, who continued through the middle, with Núñez to the left, was cynically pulled back by Dunk after a jet-heeled burst – the Brighton captain was booked while, moments earlier, Salah had almost got on to a Milner cross.

Brighton’s first thought in possession was to get forward. It left a few gaps at the back but they did not care. They backed themselves to trouble Liverpool’s defence and, amid mounting pressure towards the end, they did so.

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