southampton

Liverpool vs. Southampton 17/08/14

First Half

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.

Second Half

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.

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Liverpool 3-0 Southampton 01/03/14

YES!!!

I didn’t catch the match, but what a win! Given that Arsenal lost, it was a great opportunity to leapfrog them into 2nd place (with City having two games in hand). If we wanted to have any chance of winning the league, we would need to keep pace with Chelsea too.

And keep pace we did. It was going to be our hardest away game left (and yes, that includes Old Trafford), especially because Southampton is a bogey team of ours. Their game is so similar to ours, and there are many parallels between the sides. Both young teams, playing fast-paced matches, full of energy and pressing. Also with young managers filled with big ideas, and improving the team dramatically from the previous season.

But as we did with Arsenal, Spurs, Stoke and other bogey teams this season, we beat them. And kept a clean sheet too, with a superb one-handed save from Mignolet. That sort of shot can break an arm; he kept it out with a single hand, after appearing to have dived the wrong way initially.

And Suarez, oh, what a way to break your goalscoring drought. A super finish to kick off our game, and a brilliant assist that got past three Soton players. He’s been on an insane run to prove himself, and his assist rate has skyrocketed in recent games, some of them really, really sublime. Now top scorer, top assister, top CCC creator. If Arsenal had bought him, they would be top of the league, no question.

Having not watched the match, I can’t say for sure what sort of things happened. But I do know that we played a diamond midfield, and that shows Rodgers’ flexibility, which is one of his traits. He likes to experiment at times with formations. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But it gives us options, and that’s always a good thing.

He also learns from mistakes pretty well. Naive tactics often frustrate even the best of fans, but he picks up the cues and doesn’t do the same stupid things again. And his man-management, woah. Look at the progress of Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho, Sterling, Henderson, and tell me this man hasn’t been working wonders. And Gerrard; he’s proving me wrong, that he can play deep. But of course, not as a destroyer, but as a regista. Not the best regista in the world; Pirlo won’t be surpassed by anyone, any time soon. But for us? Good enough.

This string of games and our brilliant goalscoring form means that 2 of the 3 main criticisms I have for Rodgers – playing Gerrard all the time despite how ill-fitting he looks to the team, and being too naive and gung-ho with his tactics – are irrelevant. Gerrard being deep reduces the protection we have in front of the back four, but his passing gives us added range and penetration to score. The gung-ho attitude has been tweaked to allow for more solidity despite having the same players on the pitch. So we still concede goals; big deal. We’ll just score one more. According to a stats analysis, we aren’t just similar to Keegan’s Newcastle; we’re more bonkers than them!

So the last criticism I have is the use of subs. Rodgers seems reluctant to use his subs, and while at times I can see why (given the thin bench we have), sometimes I don’t understand it. Tiredness needs to be managed; players like Alberto and Aspas need minutes to prove themselves, and could give different dimensions. He usually subs too late for any impact, and doesn’t use up all his subs either.

But even now, I can’t criticise his use of subs too. Allen came on against Swansea and gave us much needed midfield solidity, plus a whole lot of pressing and ball retention that effectively won the game. Sterling came on (early!) this game, and promptly scored with his first touch.

Genius.

And here at the start of the season I was thinking, we can challenge for Top 4.

Now? Nonsense.

Title, here we come.