That was a decent half of football, with a slow-ish tempo to the game. It started off with our attacking players all deep behind the midfield line of Southampton, and Gerrard not utilising his passing range to bypass their lines. Lucas was tasked with connecting the midfield with the attack, but when he’s surrounded by 2 forwards and 3 midfielders, it’s a bit difficult to do any real passing.
Johnson continues to frustrate with poor passing, crossing and just giving the ball away in general. Manquillo was under-utilised as an outlet, although Lovren did switch play over to the right flank with long balls to good effect. Coutinho was being choked by the Southampton players, Koeman clearly learning from the Dortmund game and knowing how dangerous he is. Henderson was too far up, and should have dropped back a little.
But then, we did some intense pressing, and Henderson managed to steal the ball. One look up, and he fired a fantastic through-ball worthy of any world class player to Sterling, who didn’t even need to take a touch to control it before stroking it into the corner of the goal.
The game then slowed even more after that, and Southampton got a bit more of the ball and some set-pieces (along with a Ward-Prowse free kick that went too far and nearly went into goal). Schneiderlin also had a dipping shot near the end of the game which Mignolet dealt with magnificently, though he could have done better at a corner earlier.
Manquillo had a solid debut and unluckily got a yellow card (when Bertrand upended him twice and got nothing), while Lovren continues to impress as he passed well, defended well, and on the whole, our defence seems a lot more solid than last season.
What a scary half this was. Southampton had been growing into the game since the end of the first half, and they continued in the second, with great passing moves that ripped our defences to shreds. Even Lovren’s presence did nothing to help stem the tide of Soton attacks as they passed through us at will. Then, Tadic did a backheel in the box and Lucas let Clyne go to score and level things up.
Lucas was clearly tiring, losing the ball more often and failing to press as well. Before he was taken off, Southampton had a clear cut chance right in the middle of the box which they fluffed, saving us from being 2-1 down. Allen then came on for Lucas, which brought us more energy. Coutinho going off for Lambert meant us going into the diamond, and that immediately brought dividends, as we equalised when Sterling met a Henderson cross which Sturridge tapped home.
Southampton weren’t about to give up though, and kept coming at us, keeping up the pressure until Schneiderlin had another shot. Mignolet brilliantly tipped it against the underside of the bar, and Shane Long messed up an open header sending it wide. After that, it was just keeping Southampton out, without any real attacking thrust from us as we kept getting our passes intercepted.
In the end though, we managed to keep the ball a little, and got the win and 3 points. Southampton didn’t seem like they were stripped bare, playing well and our nerves seemed to be jangling all the way. Now with a win against a bogey team out of the way, maybe we can calm down and tear teams apart with the same flair we did last season.
Big mentions to Manquillo, who had a very good debut, and Lovren as well. Sterling was a bright spark all the way, and Sturridge came to life when we went into the diamond. Coutinho and Gerrard were both very quiet, and Lucas was good until he tired and had to be replaced. As for Skrtel…well, he made some manly blocks and clearances, but I still feel a sliver of worry whenever he’s up for a challenge, so I’m still in support of a Lovren/Sakho partnership. And the less said about Johnson, the better.