Brighton boss Chris Hughton backs Liverpool in title race

Brighton boss Chris Hughton says Liverpool must be regarded as genuine Premier League title contenders.

Brighton boss Chris Hughton backs Liverpool in title race

By Carl Markham

Brighton boss Chris Hughton says Liverpool must be regarded as genuine Premier League title contenders.

Jurgen Klopp’s Reds finished 25 points adrift of runaway champions Manchester City last season but did reach the Champions League final.

The Merseyside club have since spent in excess of £170m (€188m) on new players, including goalkeeper Alisson Becker and midfielders Naby Keita and Fabinho.

Hughton takes his team to Anfield today and believes this could be the year the hosts end their 29-year wait for a title triumph.

“Yes. Simply because they are a team — and because they didn’t win it you sometimes forget — but they got to the final of the Champions League final last year,” replied Hughton when asked if Liverpool are capable of winning the Premier League for the first time.

“And if some circumstances had been different they might have won it.

So you are talking about a team of that level, and I think they have improved the squad, so I think you have to (regard Liverpool as title contenders).

“Man City, I think, would naturally be the favourite because of what they have done last season and how convincing they were last season.

“But yes, I would consider these to be very much title contenders as well.”

Liverpool have underlined their title credentials by beginning the season with successive wins.

New keeper Alisson, a £65m purchase from Roma, has kept consecutive clean sheets in those games — a 4-0 victory over West Ham and a 2-0 success at Crystal Palace — while Guinea international Keita has impressed in central midfield.

The deal for Keita, signed from RB Leipzig for £52.75m, was agreed last summer and Hughton believes it could be a real coup for Klopp’s side.

He looks an outstanding player. I saw a bit of him last season and if I am looking at recruitment, the foresight for Liverpool to recruit him and then leave him there last season was outstanding,” Hughton said of Keita.

“From what I’ve seen he is only going to get better and I think he can be a really outstanding player.”

Liverpool thrashed Brighton 5-1 and 4-0 last season, with the more recent victory coming just 13 days before they lost their European final to Real Madrid.

Albion, who bounced back from their opening-day loss at Watford by beating Manchester United last weekend, have not won a league match at Anfield since March 1982.

Hughton is wary of being on the receiving end of another heavy defeat.

“You know these are the sort of places that if you don’t get it right then you can get beat big,” he said.

“Probably as a manager that’s always the one that you want to avoid.

If apprehension is the right word then, yes, you play your (Manchester) Citys away and Tottenhams and Liverpools away then yes, a little more apprehension.

Brighton vice-captain Lewis Dunk is a major doubt due to an ankle injury sustained last weekend, while skipper Bruno (hamstring), winger Jose Izquierdo (lack of fitness) and forward Florin Andone (groin) remain sidelined

Meanwhile, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insists Loris Karius has not been “sacked” as he edges closer to a loan move with Besiktas — but the improvement without the goalkeeper this season has been noticeable.

The German is on the verge of a two-year £2.2m temporary deal with the Turkish club, who are obligated to buy him for a further £7.25m in 2020 if appearance and European qualification criteria are met.

Karius, who made two errors in May’s Champions League final defeat, has been replaced by the impressive-looking Alisson.

It’s a normal thing in football. It happens to managers: as a manager you usually don’t need that much time between one game and another to get the sack,” said Klopp.

“It is not the sack, it is only change. That’s football, no problem with that.”

Liverpool’s owners Fenway Sports Group say they are still open to new outside investment but remain steadfast in their stance that the club is not for sale.

Details have emerged of a proposed £2bn takeover bid from Abu Dhabi-based Sheik Khaled Bin Zayed Al Nehayan, cousin of Manchester City owner Sheik Mansour.

However, it is understood that interest — one of a number of approaches FSG have received in recent years — did not get past the vetting stage because it was deemed neither credible nor worthy of being put to the ownership.

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox