01 March 2014

Liverpool 3-0 Southampton

Suarez 16'
Sterling 58'
Gerrard 90+5' (pen)

Liverpool got a couple of moments of much-needed luck, but on the whole, it was a tactically awesome display, well deserving of all three points and probably Liverpool's best away performance of the season outside of Tottenham's utterly inept hilarity. And it was against a side that's won the last two meetings, beating Liverpool at its own game in both matches.

Rodgers went with a 4-4-2 diamond formation for the first time in the last two seasons. Given how Southampton's dominated the middle in previous meetings, how Liverpool's midfield has ultimately led to many of its defensive failings in the last few months, it was an inspired decision. Sterling, who's been excellent lately, made way for Allen, with the Welshman and Henderson either side of Gerrard and Coutinho as the link between midfield and attack.

It's not a strategy that'll necessarily work against the West Ham's and Stoke's of the world – or David Moyes' United for that matter – but against a side that can dominate possession, that can hurt you by overloading the center of the park, it worked quite well. Liverpool were happy to concede possession, but for the most part, it was in less-threatening areas.

And Liverpool were able to defensively shell in such a manner thanks to another early goal, one that needed a fortunate deflection from Jose Fonte but was finished with flair by Luis Suarez: Suarez and Sturridge linking up in the attacking third, but the move apparently breaking down with both players crowded out at the top of the box by Southampton's resilient defense. But Lallana's attempted tackle ricocheted off Fonte, falling perfectly for an onside Suarez. So much for Suarez's goal drought. So much for Southampton's hex. Suarez has now scored against every other Premier League side.

From there, it was an admittedly frightening rest of the first half. Southampton controlled proceedings, controlled the ball, with Liverpool unable to threaten on the counter mostly because Coutinho's poor display. But poor finishing and two fortuitous game-changing moments prevented Southampton's equalizer. The first saw Lallana strike the foot of the post, set up by Lambert following Rodriguez's cross; lucky, yes, but the woodwork still owes Liverpool approximately seven more of those given how often the Reds have struck the frame of the goal this season. The second, ten minutes later, saw a miraculous save from Mignolet, nanosecond reactions to deny Rodriguez from close range after Luke Shaw's low cross.

It's no coincidence both of Southampton's excellent chances came from crosses. But Southampton's also not a team set up to cross, attempting 25 in total today – which probably isn't far off their high for the season. And the above does Liverpool's defense a bit of an injustice. They were much better today, compared to yesterday, compared to recent months, compared to almost every other away performance. But Southampton could and probably should have scored on one of those two moments.

And Liverpool regrouped during the interval – despite Southampton continue to press matters, bringing on the more-attacking Gaston Ramirez for Steven Davis – and sealed the match within 15 minutes of the restart, with its first good chance after the restart, thanks to Rodgers' first substitution. Sterling replaced Coutinho in the 57th minute, but Liverpool didn't change formation, didn't switch to the more familiar 4-3-3 with Sterling and one of Sturridge or Suarez out wide. Sterling went central, behind the two strikers, and scored with his first touch: Gerrard's throughball releasing an onside Suarez drifting out wide, Suarez's centered pass finding Sterling's late run into the box, wide open for a side-footed finish between Chambers and Boruc.

That assist means Suarez now leads the league in both goals and assists. And that goal ended the match as a contest, despite Pochettino's attempted changes, bringing on Gallagher and Wanyama for Lambert and Cork. Southampton threatened Liverpool exactly twice more despite continued dominance of possession: Rodriguez's very, very wayward shot in the 78th minute and Agger's block on Schneiderlin's effort at the beginning of injury time.

And Liverpool had more than a few chances to add their third: Sturridge shooting wide from absolutely no angle, Suarez narrowly chipping a cross over an open Sturridge, Gerrard's blast from distance finger-tipped wide, Suarez's blast from the right side of the box whistling wide. They finally got that third with almost the last kick of the game: a somewhat-limping Suarez – after Wanyama's stupid, stupid yellow card tackle ten minutes earlier – beating Fonte left and right before getting taken down in the box, Probert ignoring the scoreline and time of the game to award the spot kick. Gerrard steps up, Gerrard scores.

It could have ended very different had Lallana's shot been six inches to the right in the 32nd minute. But it wasn't. Those moments change games, those moments change seasons. And it ultimately led to a thoroughly impressive, making-me-too-optimistic Liverpool performance. I can't remember the last time Liverpool's midfield looked so secure against good opposition, at least away from Anfield, but it probably had a player named Lucas involved and was most likely a season ago. And, again, it happened against a Southampton side that's been more than a bogeyman for the last year.

Liverpool have won an awful lot of games thanks to its attack. Yes, they scored three goals today – Suarez the epicenter of all three – but today's match was won in the center of the park. One swallow doesn't make a summer, etc etc, but combine that with a blistering, best-in-the-league attack and an slowly-but-surely settling defense, and you've the making of one hell of a side.


John said...

I had a lot of stuff typed up and thought out b/c there's a few things I disagree with here Nate but ultimately all I want to say is YESSSSSSSSSSS!!!

Also we're not paying Suarez enough.

Anonymous said...

Do you know if any player has ever led the Premier League in goals and assists in the same season? I tried to find the stats online, without success.

Anonymous said...

For the first 57 minutes today, as we got completely overrun, we had 2 things going for us. Luck and Luis Suarez. And it was just enough. Suarez is always mentally very sharp regardless of the circumstances or time in the match.

The first goal, a fortunate deflection fell to the feet of the one guy you don't want it to fall to. And he dispatched it with confidence into the lower corner of the net. The second goal was massive. Suarez spun in behind Louvren taking a ball from Gerrard and drove toward the line attracting 3 defenders. Sterling found a pocket of space in the middle, motoring at 80% speed toward the goal and maintaining that pocket of space as he ran. Luis delivered the perfect pass in to Raheem who could hit it first time side foot in his stride. 2 - Nil!

From that point all of our guys got a hop in their step and we were able to get back into the flow of the game. Amazing what a 2 goal lead can do for your confidence and stamina. Hendo, Allen and Gerrard started to become much more of a factor in the match. Moving much better, passing much better and tackling and defending with real intent. Raheem was a big factor too, of course. There is often no answer for speed up top and in the middle.

Great feeling to get that win and 3 points at a place like Soton. Always a big ask for us.

A clean sheet but we still need to work on our marking. There were times in the first half when SG was deep in our box alongside Skrtel and DAgger with 2 or 3 Soton players in front of them completely unmarked in acres of space.

2 weeks off till the United game. We'll have to stay sharp somehow. And work on that marking. If we could get Lucas back in good form that would be huge. Not sure how good his form could be though. 11 games. 33 points in play. It's OT Hammer time.

Viraj said...

Clean sheet, yes. settled defence, no. In the first half agger and skrtl were pulled left to right and front to back. 6 inches the other way and we would have had a nervy defence. And we all know what that leads to. I would like Rodgers to mix it up and revert to a 2 man pivot for a possible confidence boosting clean sheet and a bit of unpredictability.because pochettino had got his tactics spot on by playing lallana on the shoulder of Gerrard. Every time we attacked they knew there would acres of space. But for all the nitpicking I'm loving every minute of this season.