Defensive vulnerability sees Liverpool pass up great opportunity

Craig Vickers
Robertson looks to the sky in frustration
Robertson looks to the sky in frustration / James Gill - Danehouse/GettyImages

It was one of those rare afternoons where the Premier League's three title contenders - Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea - all kicked off simultaneously. By full-time, it was Chelsea who had stolen a march.

The nature of simultaneous kick-off times allowed the Anfield crowd to keep track of events elsewhere. Few of them would have anticipated coming away from the stadium bemoaning a missed opportunity.

As Man City slipped up at home to Crystal Palace, Liverpool did similarly. From a position of strength 2-0 up, they contrived to allow Brighton to haul themselves back onto level terms and snatch a point.

Wilfried Zaha had stunned City at almost the same moment in time when Jordan Henderson swept Liverpool ahead. It was a lovely, simmering move - created by Virgil Van Dijk's searching crossfield pass - which suggested the hosts were in the mood and ready to put on a show.

Sadio Mane added a second shortly afterwards as Brighton - fresh off a first-half trouncing from Man City last weekend - were overcome by a sense of deja vu. The Anfield crowd were purring at the sight of their side pouring forward, with their formidable record in front of the home fans set to continue.

However, the complexion of the afternoon changed when Enock Mwepu halved the deficit for Brighton with an audacious, looping effort. Liverpool were more than happy when Mike Dean blew his whistle for half-time with the visitors gaining a foothold in the game.

The onslaught which many would have predicted after the interval never materialised. The intensity which has characterised Liverpool's start to the season was conspicious by its absence. Anxiety crept into Jurgen Klopp's side and, for every Brighton move which swept through Liverpool in the second half, it seemed to create more confusion.

It has been a criticism levelled at Liverpool when assessing their title credentials. For the undoubted quality at the top end of the pitch - backed up by their incredible attacking numbers - there is a vulnerability going in the opposite direction. Brighton's quality helped expose it.

Mohamed Salah
It was a frustrating afternoon for Liverpool / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

Klopp will rightly point to the absence of Fabinho through injury. The Brazilian provides the base which allows Liverpool to commit bodies forward, and Graham Potter's decision to deploy Leandro Trossard as a false nine gave the impression that the Seagulls boss spotted an opportunity to expose Liverpool's defensive flaws even further in midfield.

All great title-winning teams carry a certain flaw, but it's difficult to legislate for such an alarming weakness. Today's draw extended Liverpool's unbeaten start to the campaign - which suggests it can be managed in Fabinho's absence - but it's difficult not to imagine more sides using the blueprint with which Brighton created.

Brighton are a well-coached, dangerous team, but title contenders don't tend to drop points in home fixtures such as this in the era of 100+ teams.

By 4.45pm, it was the Chelsea fans on Tyneside who were celebrating the loudest. Liverpool spurned a great opportunity to maintain their momentum, owing to their defensive vulnerabilities.