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JOT TO PIE O PIECES; BRIGHTON & HA 1 LIVERPOOL 1 Diogo does it again - but so does VAR as Brighton snatch late point.

Byline: IAN DOYLE at AMEX Stadium ian.doyle@reachplc.com @IanDoyleSport

IT won't feel like it now to Liverpool's exhausted and disillusioned players. And it certainly isn't a sentiment with which Jurgen Klopp will be ready to consider until his simmering anger has subsided.

But if there was any solace to be taken from a controversial afternoon at Brighton and Hove Albion, it's that the core values that have helped the Reds to a glut of silverware remain very much intact.

Even if precious little is recognisable from the last time Liverpool supporters were able to watch their Klopp's side in action.

Certainly, the 2,000 fans who will hopefully return to Anfield on Saturday will find the Premier League is a very different beast, a competition where tiring players are now reluctant to overly celebrate goals and technology is now dictating games television frame by television frame.

Reflecting on the positives from such a contentious encounter is a necessary reminder given what is now becoming pretty standard Liverpool fayre.

Another new-look backline due to fitness concerns? Check.

Goal disallowed due to borderline VAR decision? Indeed.

Injury to a key player thanks in part to the gruelling schedule? Inevitable.

And on the wrong end of another officiating call? But of course.

For all that, this point was sufficient to move Liverpool back to the top of the Premier League table, albeit for perhaps barely more than 24 hours.

The agitation comes from the manner in which the outcome was reached, particularly the injury-time penalty from which Pascal Gross slotted the equaliser.

Referee Stuart Atwell awarded the spot-kick having been invited to consult the pitchside monitor by VAR Kevin Friend after Andy Robertson caught the foot of Danny Welbeck when both went for a loose ball.

Yes, there was contact, but it was a soft one to concede. And without the slow-motion replays it's a foul that would never have been given.

It didn't help that Liverpool had already had reason to grumble with VAR after Mohamed Salah, fed by Roberto Firmino's pass, had a first-half goal disallowed for an offside call so marginal it could be filed under 'armpit.'.

* While that would have given the Reds thefillip they needed after an unconvincing display in the opening period, Klopp's side dug in, improved after the break and had taken the lead through Diogo Jota's ninth goal in 14 appearances.

It wasn't pretty. But that's how games will have to be over the coming weeks as Liverpool juggle an intense schedule with an increasing number of injuries, the hamstrung James Milner joining those on the sidelines midway through the second half.

Criticism of Klopp after his post-match rant to BT Sport regarding the fixture list is laughable given, with his ongoing complaints regarding player welfare, he's merely reflecting the view of most Premier League managers.

At least the Reds boss could be cheered by the sight of Jordan Henderson returning for the second half to bolster a midfield that was forced to employ Takumi Minamino out of position in an experiment that largely failed.

Liverpool's starting line-up demonstrated that, after all the theorising, it hasn't taken long for the real impact of their centreback shortage to become apparent.

While there is no doubting Joel Matip's ability, his durability has been regularly called into question during his Anfield stay. And after two starts inside four days, it was no surprise the Cameroonian was rotated out of the side although eyebrows were raised at him also being absent from the bench.

Fabinho, given half-an-hour against Atalanta on Wednesday after his recent return from a hamstring problem, was instead partnered at centre-back by Nat

PHILLIPS, a 10th different pairing at the heart of Liverpool's defence in 17 games this season.

For an untried duo, they did well. And they had to, as BRIGHTON blossomed during a first half in which the reds were every bit as disjointed and fatigued as it was feared they might be and only went in level at the break due to the home side's chronic inability to score.none more so than in the 20th minute when, after the lively Aaron Connolly was upended by neco Williams inside the area, neal Maupay pulled his spot kick horribly wide of Alisson Becker's left-hand post. Maupay departed shortly afterwards through injury rather than embarrassment.

Connolly had already wasted one chance when shooting similarly wide after racing clear through a sizeable gap between the Liverpool centre-back s. But while regularly overrunning the reds midfield, BRIGHTON failed to have a shot on target before the break.

Liverpool were much better at the start of the second half. and a bright period was rewarded with the opener. on the hour, robertson winning the ball on the left and playing inside the area for Salah to lay offto Jota, who sprinted across the edge of the box before firing in a right-footed shot into the bottom corner.

Substitute Sadio Mane thought he'd headed the second before another VAr offside call, and Liverpool were seeing out the closing moments pretty comfortably before the cruel finale.

It was nothing new for the reds during what is becoming an exceptionally testing title defence. This one, though, will have particularly hurt.

Ratings by IAN DOYLE

ALISSON BECKER 8 Clearly asked to play in a sweeping role and was required on several first-half occasions. Fielded shots from Welbeck and Gross after break.

NECO WILLIAMS 5 Rash challenge on Connolly conceded the first penalty and rarely allowed to settle defensively. Subbed at half-time.

NAT PHILLIPS 7 Decent in the air but a little haphazard with his passing first half. Better when sticking to basics and solid as Brighton pressed late on.

FABINHO 8 Covered a lot of ground as the left-sided Liverpool centre-back and read the game extremely well. Excellent showing from the Brazilian.

ANDY ROBERTSON 7 Didn't have an easy time of it first half. Later gained the upper hand and key part in Jota's strike, but unlucky to concede equalising penalty.

GINI WIJNALDUM 7 Began a little sloppily and at times out of position but improved the longer the game progressed.

JAMES MILNER 7 Appeared leggy during a third start in six days but stuck to his task in midfield. Moved to right-back in the second half but then hamstrung.

TAKUMI MINAMINO 5 Playing in a midfield role, worked hard to get himself into the game but only started showing the necessary aggression in the second half.

MOHAMED SALAH 7 Shot wide early on and finished well for first disallowed goal. The main Liverpool attacking threat and provided Jota with the opener.

ROBERTO FIRMINO 6 Fine ball through to Salah for the first disallowed strike but little else before interval. Slightly more involved second half but too often peripheral.

DIOGO JOTA 7 Started with intent but faded first half and could have offered Robertson more protection. Much better second half and took his goal superbly.

SUBS: JORDAN HENDERSON (for Williams 46) Added both tempo and composure to the Liverpool midfield on his return. 7 SADIO MANE (for Salah 64) Went down the centre on his arrival and had strike chalked off for offside. 6 CURTIS JONES (for Milner 74) Liverpool's third right-back of the match and the least likely, which was obvious from some of his positioning. 6 BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION: Ryan, White, Dunk, Webster, Veltman, Gross, Bissouma, March, Maupay (Trossard 26), Welbeck, Connolly (Lallana 63; Jahanbakhsh 71). Subs not used: Alzate, Steele, Burn, Molumby. GOALS: Gross 90+3 pen; Jota 60.

BOOKED: White, Veltman; Alisson. REFEREE: Stuart Attwell.

CAPTION(S):

DIOGO JOTA gives Liverpool the lead and (inset top left) Pascal Gross scores from the spot

POOL/GETTY IMAGES

Liverpool's two disallowed goals, for Sadio Mane (left) and MOHAMED SALAH
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:IAN DOYLE at AMEX Stadium ian.doyle@reachplc.com @IanDoyleSport
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 29, 2020
Words:1291
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