Sunday, August 1, 2021

Southampton 1-0 Liverpool: Five things to note as champions slump continues

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It will certainly be remembered as a great result for Southampton. Not every day does a team objectively poised for the middle of the table beat the defending Premier League champions, though Liverpool look far from that flattering description at the moment. It has been clear from the start that this campaign will be a lot different from the previous three when the Reds and/or Manchester City completely ruled the pack, with slip-ups expected at every turn. But it cannot be argued that Liverpool are now in a situation which looks more like a crisis with every game.

Ings strikes against former club

He tried to stay calm after he scored the opening, and what proved to be the only, goal of the game in the second minute. Danny Ings didn’t appear to want to celebrate scoring against a club where he spent three years, but he simply couldn’t hide the happiness. And even the most die-hard Liverpool supporters will not hold it against him. It was truly a brilliant strike, albeit helped by Jordan Henderson failing to keep the offside trap in a working condition and Trent Alexander-Arnold not dealing with the ball when he had the chance.

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Nonetheless, it was a perfectly weighed lobbed shot which gave Alisson Becker no chance of a save, and in a way it symbolizes the current stage of the 28-year-old’s career. The Liverpool spell is over and it wasn’t pleasant, with not one but two ACL injuries he had to deal with. Now he’s back at his best, scoring goals on a regular basis, and it’s good to see him smiling after all he’s been through.

Worrying signs at Liverpool

For a while it seemed Liverpool’s title defence was in danger of falling apart due to injury problems at the back. Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are, of course, out for the season, leaving the centre-back department, as thin as it was before, completely ravaged. Joel Matip has had two separate injuries already, and at the moment, Klopp hasn’t got a single senior centre-back fit to play.

However, the emergency solutions the German has come up with have done reasonably well. Midfielder Fabinho has done superbly in the role, and Nathaniel Phillips (23) and Rhys Williams (19) haven’t been bad either. Ever Henderson did well overall on the two occasions he was put in the middle of defence. But problems are emerging everywhere else.

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Liverpool simply aren’t able to score goals the way they used to. They create arguably enough, but the front three, so deadly for years, appear to have dried up for the moment. It’s true that opposition defences take them very seriously and mark them with notable dedication, as well as that refereeing decisions often go against them, but their sharpness has slipped and there can be no hiding from it. They’ve now scored once in their last three games, and that after putting seven past Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino need to find their shooting boots and fast, although others would also do well to chip in every now and again. The overwhelming feeling is, Liverpool sorely miss Diogo Jota right now, more than Van Dijk or Gomez.

And the fullbacks?

Liverpool’s style in the last couple of seasons has included Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold frequently busting down the flanks, going forward and looking for attackers in good positions in the box with accurate crosses. These days they don’t seem to be managing it as much and it certainly affects the team’s ability to score.

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One piece of stats which stands out in this aspect is that Alexander-Arnold, as per Sky Sports, gave the ball away 38 times in this match – more than any other player in any other match in the league this season. Klopp obviously noted things were going badly over there, and he replaced the 22-year-old with 35-year-old James Milner after 77 minutes.

Robertson on the left wasn’t as bad, particularly in the second half, but it was still far from enough from the Scotland captain.

Thiago needs time

Much has been said about the addition of Thiago Alcantara to Klopp’s team this season helping Liverpool break through deep blocks. The Spaniard certainly has the ability to unlock defences with shrewd and accurate passing, he has shown it so many times before. But looking at this game, his performance notably picked up after the break, and there is a reason why.

In the first half, the home team often pressed as high as they dared, not allowing the visitors too much time on the ball. Thiago (and all the others) were forced to act quickly and frequently pass sideways. The former Bayern Munich man simply needed too much time to turn forward when in possession, and he wasn’t allowed that time by his opponents.

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In the second half, Southampton dropped and defender deeper, and Thiago’s abilities became suddenly obvious. The conclusion is, he’ll have to speed up his own game before he can speed up the play of the team, which is chiefly what he’s been brought in to do. To his defence, some level of rust was only to be expected after being out of action from October 17th to December 30th. Klopp will be hoping it’s been removed now – he’ll need the 29-year-old at his best in the next game: Manchester United at Anfield on January 17th.

Referee and VAR still an issue

It should also be noted that Liverpool were denied two potential penalties in this match, one arguably more obvious than the other. Nonetheless, with the VAR technology in place, neither of those situations should have been let to fly.

Both moments came in the second half, when the visitors were pushing hard for an equalizer. One was Southampton defender Jack Stephens using his hand to block Georginio Wijnaldum’s effort from the edge of the box, and the other was Kyle Walker-Peters clipping Mane from behind just as the Senegalese forward entered the box from the left.

It seems that referee Andre Marriner simply decided not to blow his whistle believing VAR would correct his call if need be, while the VAR official were reluctant to do so. One question stands big here: why wasn’t Marriner sent to view these situations on the pitch-side screen?

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On the other hand, VAR also reviewed one situation as a possible Liverpool penalty, Ryan Bertrand tackling Salah inside the box, but the Southampton left-back so obviously got the ball on that occasion that the whole thing was completely unnecessary.

Be it all as it may, Liverpool are now left to pick up their act as best they can, before United, who have now caught them up in terms of point tally with a game in hand, come to Anfield. As four Southampton, manager Ralph Hasenhuttl, who appeared to be crying with joy at the end of the match, will certainly be delighted with what his team is doing this term.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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