Brighton vs Liverpool is a massive game for the league leaders. Have they gone off the boil with two defeats in a row? Is this the point their title challenge crumbles into dust now their unbeaten record has gone? And who is going to play at centre-back since Dejan Lovren hobbled off inside six minutes at Wolves?
The answers, at least to my mind, are: no, no and, er, Fabinho I guess? To address the first point, while the Reds have been beaten in their last two fixtures, the stats suggest they were unlucky to lose at City on the balance of chances. The same stats would imply they deserved to lose at Wolves, but the Liverpool team sheet confirmed that was always likely, whatever numbers were eventually totted up by both sides.
There’s no reason their bid for a first title 29 years will fall away any time soon either. If anything, their expected goals figures suggest they’re getting stronger at the moment, not worse.
While Manchester City's underlying numbers are declining, Liverpool are getting stringer and stronger. Dominant in expected goals over the last 10 games. pic.twitter.com/3OWt15C9RL
— Twelve (@twelve_football) January 4, 2019
And Brighton aren’t tearing up any trees either; at present the Seagulls are fifth bottom in Twelve’s simulated xTable. However, one area where they definitely have a strength could be a problem for Liverpool in light of the third question in the opening paragraph: set pieces.
Roughly 21 percent of the goals scored in the Premier League this season have been from dead ball situations (excluding penalties), but for Brighton that figure stands at 46 percent. Only Huddersfield, with their small sample of 13 goals, have scored a higher proportion of their goals from set-pieces, and only Liverpool have scored more in total.
Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk have scored six league goals between them in 2018/19. But all of them have been from set pieces, meaning the Seagulls’ centre-backs have more dead ball goals to their name than half of the teams in the division do.
With Liverpool having conceded the fewest this season – two, which is remarkable if you think back over their efforts in recent years – this might not have been a problem for them. And while they have the services of Virgil van Dijk for this match, Brighton will no doubt target whichever (most likely) midfielder is stationed alongside him. Something for Jürgen Klopp to ponder anyway.
If Liverpool can handle Brighton’s dead ball threat, then they should be okay in this match. A prediction generated by expected goal data suggests a 2-0 away win is the most likely scoreline, which sounds reasonable. Over the last six league matches, a leader board of players from the two teams is all Liverpool, illustrating what strong favourites they are for this match.
Salah has six goals and three assists in his last six league matches – a goal contribution total no Brighton player can match for the season as a whole – while Firmino has scored four and set up another in that period. The home side may be able to profit from Liverpool’s injury problems at the back to some extent, but if the Reds are on form up front then it should be a routine away win.