Liverpool maintain EPL lead in slim and tough fought Brighton win

Call it a blip. Or a dip. Or a slump. Or a wobble. It doesn't matter any more. Whatever it was, it's over. Beaten in the Premier League by Manchester City and knocked out of the FA Cup by Wolves in the last nine days, Liverpool ground out a dour win on the south coast against a well-organised Brighton team who had not lost in four games.

It wasn't pretty and it wasn't fluent but it doesn't matter. All that mattered was that Liverpool proved they weren't going to weak at the knees at the first sign of adversity. All that mattered was that they rebounded. All that mattered was the three points.

'It's like when you fall from the horse,' Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said after the game. 'The best way to ride again is to get straight back on the horse. We didn't make a big fuss of it when we lost. I'm completely happy with the way we did it and now we have moved on.'

They are seven points clear at the top again now, at least until Spurs play Manchester United on Sunday afternoon and City face Wolves at the Etihad on Monday evening. If any of their pursuers were expecting a Liverpool collapse, the victory at the Amex will have cooled their ardour.

Klopp's side was far from its best but his players dealt with the pressure well. They knew it was vital to avoid dropping more points as City watched for more signs of vulnerability and they did the job. It wasn't an exhibition of flowing football but Klopp didn't care.

'We are not the Harlem Globetrotters,' he said. 'We have to deliver results. It was not easy because Brighton are doing very well.'

The 1-0 victory was won with a penalty from Mo Salah after he had bamboozled Pascal Gross in the area early in the second half and been pulled down but it was built on another titanic display by Virgil van Dijk, who was described by Mats Hummels before the game as the best defender in the world. 'It's nice when these guys compliment each other,' Klopp said. 'That's cool.'

Van Dijk's command in the air and his composure on the floor was the foundation of Liverpool's win even though the Brighton fans preferred to give the credit to referee Kevin Friend for his award of the penalty and a perceived bias towards the league leaders. 'One-nil to the referee,' they sang towards the end but Liverpool didn't mind. The ship has been steadied.

Before the game, Klopp had reacted with amusement to talk of a crisis because his team had suffered two successive defeats. Until the turn of the year, he pointed out, people had been telling him Liverpool had built an unassailable lead in the league.

'Nothing happened,' Klopp said. 'Each team in the world can lose at Man City. So we spoke about why, what we did, what happened, what we could have done better – of course, but that's how we do it always. And then we moved on.'

Liverpool came close to opening the scoring in the 10th minute when Fabinho, playing as a makeshift centre half, spread a long pass wide to Andy Robertson on the Liverpool left. Robertson is one of the best crossers of the ball in the league and his curling pass was measured for Roberto Firmino to run on to, only for the Brazil forward to slice it wide from six yards out.

Brighton kept their opponents at bay until midway through the half when Liverpool's pressure almost told again. The move started, as many of Liverpool's had already done, with a perfectly judged chipped pass from Van Dijk to Robertson and the ball was worked across the face of the Brighton box to Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right.

There had been suggestions that Alexander-Arnold had sprained an ankle in the warm-up and that his participation in the game was in doubt but he showed few signs of discomfort as he turned inside Gaetan Bong and curled a left-foot cross into the box. Xherdan Shaqiri rose to meet it and glanced it towards David Button's right hand post but it flashed just wide.

It was a rare headed chance for either side. Much had been made before the game of the aerial dominance of both defences. Shane Duffy had made 91 headed clearances this season already before the game began, the most of any defender in the league. Van Dijk had won more aerial challenges than any defender in the league. It was no surprise that high balls into the box yielded little joy.

Liverpool began the second half with more conviction and Salah went close after a mistake from Dunk had ceded possession. It was a short reprieve. Four minutes after the interval, Mane played the ball into Salah in the box and he turned past Gross.

As Salah shaped to shoot, he was brought down from behind by Gross and Mr Friend pointed to the penalty spot. Salah's movement in the box is so sharp he has won a succession of penalties recently and when he stepped up to take it, he dispatched it confidently past Button, who guessed the right direction but was beaten by the pace of the ball. Brighton pressed for an equaliser as best they could but Liverpool were always able to keep them at arm's length.

'I thought we played well against the best team in the country,' Brighton manager Chris Hughton said. 'They are at the top of the table so that speaks for itself. They are in pole position and I think they are favourites.'

When the final whistle blew, Klopp turned to Salah, who had been substituted a minute earlier, and wrapped him in a bear hug. Liverpool have momentum again. The blip is over.