How important was Liverpool’s win against Brighton for Jurgen Klopp? If it was the first game of the season, then you’d think the he and his coaching staff wouldn’t be too thrilled by the somewhat workmanlike performance.
However, this one came on the back of two defeats including their first of the league season, against fellow title contenders Manchester City.
A four-point lead at the top going into a game against a mid-table side is hardly a crisis. Yet, it could have developed into one had the Reds slipped up at Brighton. Three defeats on the trot would have hit them hard. Just as victories beget more confidence in sport, losses can drain you of belief pretty quick.
And this, remember, is Liverpool, 18-time league champions who have never won the Premier League since its inception in 1992. That’s a barren spell to weigh down even the hardest footballers. Forget the rousing narrative of creating new history and not being weighed down by the old. Twenty-eight years is enough time to foster crippling doubts in any football club, which can reflect on the players.
That is why the victory at Brighton felt significant. It was not free flowing and neither was it dominant. But the 1-0 win felt comfortable, and particularly impressive considering holding midfielder Fabinho was partnering van Dijk in central defence. Besides a chance to Glen Murray in the first half, Brighton were contained without fuss. It was a professional performance built on hard work and discipline, one that aspiring champions have to occasionally grind out.
Their upcoming fixture list is also relaxed. Liverpool enjoy an 11-day break between their next two league games. By then centre-backs, Gomez, Lovren and Matip should be ready to take the field. Even fortune, it seems, is on their side.
So, it this the year when the red half of Merseyside finally end three decades of hurt? Betting certainly think so. With two winnable home games in January, Liverpool should enjoy at least a four-point lead and a healthier squad at the start of next month.
After that, they have a lighter schedule and no game against City, the one team capable of beating them even if the Reds are playing at their best. If they keep their wits about them, the title is theirs to lose. However, keeping your head and footing when the grass is dry and glory is imminent is no easy task, as fans who suffered the events of the run-in five years ago will testify.