Saturday, July 2, 2022

Southampton 1-2 Liverpool: Talking points as Reds ensure Premier League final day drama

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Liverpool came back from a goal down against Southampton at St. Mary’s to earn the three points they needed to keep their Premier League title hopes alive, as Takumi Minamino cancelled out Nathan Redmond’s 13th-minute opener in the 27th, and Joel Matip struck the winner in the 67th.

The game

As expected, Liverpool dominated the game completely and the numbers prove it; 71% possession, 24 shots compared to Southampton’s four, 734 passes with 89% accuracy over 300 and 75% by the Saints, nine corners taken to one.

However, the actual scoreline is a bit closer to hitting the nail on the head in terms of reflecting things seen on the pitch. Ralph Hasenhuttle’s side had excellent periods of their own, particularly in the final minutes of the game when they pushed the title contenders back and went bravely in search of a late equalizer. By no means did they willingly ‘park the bus’ – it was just that the opposition of such quality proved too good to allow themselves to be on the back foot for more than a minute or two.

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Liverpool always play that way, that’s what their usual midfield section is so well trained to do, and in their absence, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott did very well to keep hold of the ball deep in the opposition half and weave intricate passing patterns across the team. Chances were created, and had Diogo Jota been more composed on one or two occasions, Alex McCarthy could’ve been beaten a few times more.

To sum up, Southampton did their best, they really did, but Liverpool deserved their win.

Martin Atkinson

The refereeing in the Premier League has been criticized for a very long time now, and one of the names often mentioned in connection with controversial calls is Martin Atkinson, who was in charge of this game. Liverpool fans have never exactly seen eye-to-eye with the 51-year-old, with his calls in big situations going against their team quite frequently. This game was another fine example of his, for lack of a better word, ineptitude, as well as the lack of will from those in charge of the VAR (Stuart Atwell this time) to react to his wrong decisions.

It was the situation that preceded Redmond’s opener that caused the debate. Liverpool were attacking from the left and Kostas Tsimikas sent a low pass towards the feet of Jota. Southampton defender Lyanco tried to get to the ball first but quite clearly took out Jota instead. Atkinson allowed play to continue and the ball reached Redmond.

There was no intervention from the VAR, with Atwell apparently seeing the foul but not considering it a “clear and obvious error” by Atkinson.

The explanation goes on to state that the VAR is not present in the game to “re-referee all minute decisions.”

The clear and obvious question here is, can a decision be considered “minute” if it leads to a team scoring a goal?

Luckily enough, not just for Liverpool but for the integrity of the game itself, the moment of brain-freeze (if not something more sinister) shared between Atkinson and Atwell did not affect the final outcome of the match. The implications would’ve otherwise been huge.

Along with Jonathan Moss and Mike Dean, Atkinson will be retiring from refereeing at the end of the season, and there probably won’t be anyone at any Premier League club missing him.

Armando Broja

It was Redmond who scored for Southampton in this match as his shot caught a deflection off James Milner and flew past Alisson Becker into the top corner, but it was Armando Broja who was surely the standout performer for the home side. There was no Virgil van Dijk to test himself against, but Matip and Ibrahima Konate are quite formidable opponents as well, and not many attacking players have been able to take them on the way Broja did. The 20-year-old Albanian was everywhere – through the middle, on the left, on the right, competed in the air, used his notable pace and dribbling skill, and the two Liverpool centre-backs had an extremely difficult day at the office trying to contain him.

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What he still lacks is end product, though; there were one or two occasions when he used his quality to get himself in a great position with the ball at his feet, from which a more experienced high-quality forward would’ve arguably scored or made an actual assist, but Broja picked the wrong option and failed to do either.

Nonetheless, his decision making and finishing is bound to improve with experience, and if Chelsea, his parent club, decide to allow him to leave on a permanent basis this summer, they might live to regret it quite soon. Broja has every ingredient needed to make a top-class forward, and now it’s down to the process of finding the right club and growing the right way, honing his skills and learning to use his vast talents to greater effect.

The Liverpool depth

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp left the likes of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold completely out of the matchday squad, managing their strength against challenges to come. Some regular starters, like Andy Robertson, Thiago Alcantara and captain Jordan Henderson, were left on the bench, along with sensational January signing Luis Diaz, and only Henderson among them entered the fray in the second half. Even that was a forced substitution as Joe Gomez picked up an injury late in the first half and James Milner had to leave the middle of the park to deputize on the right defensive flank.

Without Van Dijk, Matip and Konate played at a high level, and as much as Broja did give them trouble, they always found ways to stop him in the end. Kostas Tsimikas, the hero of the FA Cup final penalty shootout a few days before, was completely up to the task on the left. Both Gomez and Milner played well on the right, and the trio of Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota and Minamino worked just fine upfront. Minamino’s emphatic equalizer was a good example of their ability to interact as Jota controlled the ball inside the box and slipped the Japanese through.

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Speaking after the match, Klopp described his fringe players as “Ferraris in the garage”. That may be stretching it slightly, but the fact remains that Liverpool are still in the fight for the remaining two trophies in the second half of May, after winning two this season already. No team can do that without extremely formidable squad depth.

The end of the Liverpool road for some

With the summer approaching fast, there will be comings and goings through the transfer market soon. And while the attention, when it comes to Liverpool, is mostly on the Salah contract saga and the alleged interest from Bayern Munich in Mane, there are other players more likely to leave Merseyside.

One of them is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The attacking midfielder joined the Reds from Arsenal in 2017, and having had an excellent first season at the club, he tore his ACL in the Champions League semifinal against AS Roma and consequently missed a lot of action. His performances unfortunately never reached the same level again, and now, more than three years after his return from that setback, there’s hardly a role for him to play at Liverpool, even when a heavily rotated team is named to start and several stars left out completely. He was named on the bench, but his services were not needed, with youngsters Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott both ahead of him in the pecking order; quite apart from the more experienced option that is Naby Keita.

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It’s a slightly different situation for Divock Origi. The Belgian striker was also on the bench but he came on in the 65th minute in the place of Elliott to boost the attacking section as his team chased the crucial second goal.

Unlike Oxlade-Chamberlain, Origi has proven quite capable of making a difference when given a chance, and he scored a few important goals this season too, on top of his heroics of the past which have put his name firmly into the recent Anfield legends. However, the 27-year-old is running out of contract and while he may be a fine squad option, he’ll be on the move this summer in search of a place where he’d be playing every week, preferably as a starter. Reports suggest he is very close to making his way to AC Milan, having scored a winning goal at San Siro already.

Many expect Minamino to leave as well, but that doesn’t appear quite as clear on the horizon as the departures Oxlade-Chamberlain and Origi. Fringe player or not, Liverpool surely won’t want to disperse that impressive squad depth just like that. The fact that Minamino is the club’s top scorer this season in both cup competitions – which Liverpool won – proves that there’s a role for him to play, and with two years left on his contract, it stands to reason to expect Klopp to persuade the 27-year-old Japan international to stay put.

The road to the title

For Southampton, this match bore no competitive significance and given the opposition they were facing, they won’t be too disappointed with the result. They’re currently 15th in the Premier League and if they don’t beat Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Sunday, they could drop to 16th to make way for Everton – providing the Toffees win their two remaining matches – but it’ll go no further.

On the other hand, the victory and the three points were obviously crucial to keep Liverpool’s hopes of the fabled ‘quadruple’ alive. Klopp’s team have the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup already on a shelf in the Anfield trophy room, with the Premier League title and the Champions League glory out there for them to chase. They face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on May 28th in Paris, and as for the Premier League, they must beat Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield on Sunday and hope that Aston Villa, led by Liverpool icon Steven Gerrard and represented by former Liverpool players Philippe Coutinho and Danny Ings, can remain undefeated against Manchester City at the Etihad.

Whatever happens on Sunday, or later in Paris, what Liverpool have done this season is already remarkable. The ‘quadruple’ may remain as elusive as before, given that no English team has ever won it, but the Reds have already come closer than anyone ever before. Despite rival supporters doing their best to discredit their efforts, particularly in the Champions League, crediting their place in the final to an alleged “easy draw”, Liverpool can hardly be blamed for Juventus and Bayern Munich not getting past Villarreal to reach the semifinals. It was the Yellow Submarine that stood in their way instead of the Old Lady or the Bavarians, and Unai Emery’s men certainly deserved to be there, just as Liverpool deserved to go through to the final.

In the Premier League, Liverpool were written off from the title race a while back, with Manchester City leading the way at one stage by more than 10 points. However, the Merseysiders stuck to the task and ploughed on, taking advantage of City’s stumbles along the way to reignite the race fully.

To compete like that on all four fronts is simply a fantastic achievement, and even though failing to lift either of the remaining two trophies would surely bring disappointment to everyone connected with the club, the success of the 2021-22 season cannot be doubted anymore.

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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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