LIVERPOOL, United Kingdom, Nov 30 – A first-half brace from Virgil van Dijk lifted Liverpool 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League in a 2-1 win over Brighton that was filled with drama after the sending off of home goalkeeper Alisson.
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.
The loss in midweek of influential midfielder Fabinho had taken the gloss off a successful period for Jurgen Klopp’s side, with an ankle injury ruling the Brazilian out for six weeks.
But the mood around Anfield before kick-off was certainly lifted when news came through from the north-east that their rivals Manchester City had unexpectedly dropped two points at Newcastle.
It did not take long for that mood to improve still further as Liverpool set about their task of attempting to move 11 points clear of Pep Guardiola’s side, the defending champions and the team still seen as their greatest challengers.
It took 18 minutes for Klopp’s men to take a deserved lead after Pascal Gross fouled Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain outside the Brighton area.
Trent Alexander-Arnold floated in the perfect 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 of the season.
It did not take as long for van Dijk to wait for his third of the season — 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 centre and the Dutch defender rose magnificently to beat Dunk and power a bullet header past a helpless Mat Ryan.
In between, van Dijk might have found the back of the net again, only this time his own, as he sliced a Davy Propper cross that flew inches wide of Liverpool’s far post.
But that was a rare moment of respite for Brighton, whose poor set-piece defending had left them facing a near impossible task against a Liverpool side unbeaten in home league games since Crystal Palace beat them in April 2017, 951 days ago.
Ryan 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 without a clean sheet in 11 games.
Jordan Henderson filled the absent Fabinho’s holding midfield position although he could not prevent the visitors from creating a couple of glorious openings late in the half as Propper was denied by Alisson and Dunk missed the target, unmarked, from 12 yards.
There were similar glimmers of hope for the visitors early in the second half, Dunk glancing a header wide and Aaron Connolly shooting straight at Alisson, before Liverpool began to threaten on the counter attack.
In the late drama that followed Alisson’s dismissal Brighton pressed for an equaliser.
Adrian saved well from Aaron Mooy but almost fumbled a header from Gross into his own goal.