Coutinho a class apart on perfect day for Klopp's five-star raiders
Brighton 1 Liverpool 5
Anyone with cash to spare ahead of the World Cup would be advised to invest some in Brazil. Frankly, any team with Philippe Coutinho in it has a chance.
Or, at least, any team with Coutinho in the sort of dazzling, Barcelona-tempting form he showed here. Liverpool's No 10 was majestic on the South Coast, involved in all five of Liverpool's goals as his side eviscerated an unusually brittle Brighton. With serious business on the horizon in the shape of Spartak Moscow in the Champions League on Wednesday and the Merseyside derby next weekend, he delivered precisely the sort of outing to have Jurgen Klopp purring.
"It is important it was good," the Liverpool manager said. "We need the points. We want to stay as close as possible to the teams in front. We need to win, I'm happy about that."
It was a particularly satisfactory afternoon given that Klopp was obliged to mend his defence. With Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan injured and Joe Gomez sick, he drafted two midfielders - Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum - into an emergency back three.
But if Liverpool had an exploitable weakness at the back, the depressing news for a record crowd at the Amex Stadium was that Brighton lacked the resources to cut them open. That was evident as early as 15 minutes into the game. Izzy Brown, the Chelsea loanee, skipped past Trent Alexander-Arnold and fizzed over a telling cross. It landed at Glenn Murray's feet on the penalty spot, but the veteran forward spooned his shot high, wide and not particularly handsome. It was the kind of chance you sensed needed to be taken.
Under Chris Hughton's stewardship, Brighton are unquestionably well-organised, spirited, wholehearted. But what they lack is what Liverpool have in abundance, a class evident every time the ball was fed to their electric-heeled front three. While the home crowd groaned in frustration at every misplaced Brighton pass, from the moment Coutinho first received the ball there was a sense he would do something useful with it. When he arced a beautiful crossfield ball to Alexander-Arnold, for instance, it deserved more than the full-back's spooned cross.
It was only a matter of time before Liverpool's superiority produced a return. And after half an hour, a corner swung in from the right by Coutinho found Can evading his marker to thump home a header. Hughton had barely stopped raging at his dozing defence when, just 79 seconds later, Liverpool struck again.
It was the kind of goal that Klopp would take to a desert island, his ideal Liverpool breakaway. Mohamed Salah, a jinking, darting source of continual panic in the Brighton defence, tore down the middle. With the Brighton back four on their heels, he pushed the ball wide to Coutinho, whose invitation of a cross found Roberto Firmino, and he passed the ball deftly into the net.
This was typical of Coutinho's afternoon. Everything he did came loaded with threat. One dribble, switching the ball quickly between his feet before being hauled down by a Brighton defender, was a thing of beauty.
It was not that Brighton did not try. As the second half began, they pressed and probed. Brown, who was having a fine afternoon, crossed with almost Coutinho precision. Murray met it perfectly. But his shot was brilliantly saved by Simon Mignolet, making his 150th Premier League appearance.
And even as Hughton held his head in his hands in his technical area, the ball bounced away into Liverpool possession. Coutinho (who else) eased forward, finding the accelerating Salah, who barrelled onwards before passing to Firmino to slot away his second. Twenty seconds from jeopardy to celebration: Kloppball to perfection.
That might have been the end for Brighton. But, to their credit, they pressed on. Brown earned a corner from which, during a push-me-pull-you in the box, referee Graham Scott deemed Jordan Henderson to have fouled Shane Duffy. Murray, given immediate opportunity to atone for his miss, converted the penalty.
The problem for the home side was that Liverpool, and Coutinho in particular, did not appear sated. And the more Brighton pushed forward, the more the danger of counter-attacks lurked. Even as Hughton sent on fresh legs in the shape of Solly March and Jose Izquierdo, Coutinho was working every opportunity. And he cunningly deployed a free-kick (won, naturally by him) from the edge of the area, grasscutting it under the Brighton wall past a statuesque Matt Ryan into the net. It was a goal Klopp said came courtesy of his analysis department, who had noted the Brighton wall's leaping habit.
Hughton, though, was dismissive of such a notion. "The moment you don't jump Coutinho whips one in the corner," he said. "Praise the player."
If that was a goal born on a computer screen, a minute later the Brazilian demonstrated his improvisational prowess, darting unopposed from the halfway line before firing in a shot that Lewis Dunk diverted past Ryan.
"They gave us a harsh lesson and we have to learn from it," was Hughton's view. It was harsh indeed. Though perhaps the harshest truth was that, with Coutinho in this sort of form, Liverpool were in a different league altogether.