LONDON (AFP) – Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp praised the character of his Premier League leaders after a first-half double from Virgil van Dijk lifted them 11 points clear despite the sending off of goalkeeper Alisson Becker in a 2-1 win over Brighton last Saturday night.
The Brazilian was dismissed on 76 minutes as he raced out of his area to handle an attempted chip by Brighton substitute Leandro Trossard.
Spanish replacement Adrian came on but his first act was to pick the ball out of the net as Lewis Dunk rolled the free-kick past the Liverpool wall and an unprepared goalkeeper, setting up an anxious finale for the home side.
“We brought on a frozen goalkeeper,” said Klopp.
“Everybody sitting here is probably not warm yet so imagine you go out there in shorts, and really thin shirt and gloves that are not for keeping you warm!
“Then some people let the free-kick happen like that, like a little bit sleepy.
“But we kept fighting – Adrian especially helped us with two really good saves but with cold feet he couldn’t kick the ball as far as he wanted.”
There was more drama, and anxiety from home supporters dreaming of seeing their team win a first league title in 30 years, in the closing stages. Adrian saved well from a fierce Aaron Mooy shot before the Spanish keeper almost fumbled a Pascal Gross header over his own goalline.
Still, thanks to Van Dijk, who is in contention for the Ballon d’Or award in Paris, Liverpool had a sufficient cushion to survive.
With Liverpool having seen Manchester City draw 2-2 with Newcastle moments before they kicked off at Anfield, it took 18 minutes for them to take a deserved lead after Gross fouled Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain outside the Brighton area.
Trent Alexander-Arnold floated in the free-kick and Van Dijk rose powerfully above Adam Webster to head in his second goal of the season and first since the opening day.
It did not take as long for Van Dijk to wait for his third – six minutes to be precise – as Brighton failed to learn from conceding the opener and allowed the same combination to double the lead.
This time it was from a left-wing corner as Alexander-Arnold delivered a perfect cross and the Dutch defender rose magnificently to beat Dunk and power a bullet header past a helpless Mat Ryan.
The Brighton keeper had already made three key saves to keep his side in contention, two from Roberto Firmino and another from Sadio Mane.
But, as the half progressed, there were moments of concern for a Liverpool side about to endure a 12th consecutive game without a clean sheet.
Davy Propper was denied by Alisson and Dunk missed the target, unmarked, from 12 yards.
The second half opened with Dunk glancing a header wide and Aaron Connolly shooting straight at Alisson.
“I’m really happy and proud at the desire the boys showed,” said Klopp. “And the red card made it a really special win.
“We don’t think about the points gap, or when people talk about 11 points.
“We’ve won 13 games but none of those 13 games was easy.
“We don’t think before a game, this will be easy. We’re completely concerned with different things and don’t fool ourselves that we’re favourites in certain games.”