Previous Match Infographics: Manchester City (h), Arsenal (h), Manchester United (h), Norwich (a), Stoke (h), Reading (h), Everton (a), Newcastle (h), Chelsea (a), Wigan (h), Swansea (a), Tottenham (a)
As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
Liverpool's passing statistics are incredibly similar to the totals against both Spurs and Swansea. The possession statistics nearly mirror those against Spurs, and Southampton attempted almost the exact amount of passes that Tottenham did, if less accurately. Like against those two sides, the opposition's tackles and interceptions dwarf Liverpool's total. And while Liverpool took three more shots against Southampton than against Swansea, they were actually more accurate in that earlier 0-0 draw, with nine of 20 on-target compared to eight of 23 on Saturday.
Unsurprisingly, two discrepancies differentiate Saturday's result from the previous two. They're the same traits we've been banging on about all season long. First, Liverpool actually found the back of the net with one of its multiple shots, taking advantage of the long spell when on top in the first half to finally find a goal right before the interval. Liverpool remain unbeaten in the league when scoring in the first half, with draws against Manchester City and Everton and wins against Norwich, Reading, and Southampton. And at the same time, Liverpool – specifically Lucas – ensured that the opposition had little chance to get one of its own, whether on the counter-attack or during one of the rare spells when on top. Liverpool kept the clean sheet they kept against Swansea but couldn't against Tottenham, scored the goal they got in London but not in Wales.
Also unsurprisingly, I'm going to credit much of the improvement to Lucas' return. He made almost half of Liverpool's successful tackles – seven of the side's 15 – including five of the nine in Liverpool's half: the one tackle in the penalty box and one of the four on the flanks.
WhoScored's average position chart shows him almost as a third center back, slightly ahead of Agger and Skrtel, while both Johnson and Enrique primarily played in the opposition's half. Johnson attempted just three tackles (two of the three in Southampton's half), Enrique one. Lucas' return allowed those two to focus on attack, overloading Southampton's final third until they finally conceded. Both took three shots, while Johnson was Liverpool joint-top chance creator, including an assist for Liverpool's lone goal.
Squawka's heat map shows how Lucas patrolled the entire width and breadth of Liverpool's half, more heavily on the flank where Southampton were most dangerous through Adam Lallana and the left-footed Gaston Ramirez drifting to the side. Both Lallana and Ramirez – while still Southampton's best attackers – were far below the standards set in the previous four matches unbeaten, with Lallana also restrained by Johnson's freedom to focus on attack.
Lucas' return also allowed Gerrard to do what he does best – attack, with three shots and five chances created, both well above his average for the season. It's been surprising to see him deployed so deep in the Brazilian's absence, leading to multiple, never-before-occurring arguments over the player's best position, but that should hopefully become a thing of the past.
Again, no matter the above emphasis, it isn't all about Lucas. Agger and Skrtel performed excellently when called up in defense, and were massive threats on set plays, including on Liverpool's lone goal. Johnson and Enrique demonstrated what they can add to Liverpool's attack. Shelvey and Sterling both used the ball well and were heavily involved with Liverpool's passing game, although the latter showed some signs of fatigue in completing none of his five attempted take-ons.
It's all about balance. Lucas gives both the midfield and the team as a whole better balance.
Now, if Liverpool could only put the ball in the net more regularly.