25 October 2015

Liverpool 1-1 Southampton

Benteke 77'
Mane 86'

For the eighth time in the last nine matches in all competitions, Liverpool have finished level. Seven ended 1-1. Six of those seven saw Liverpool score first and concede an equalizer within 16 minutes.

Sigh. The more things change...

There are all sorts of valid excuses as to why this happened and why it's not the end of the world. It's only Klopp's third match. Three matches in eight days limited Liverpool's ability to adapt to his system, especially the counter-press, while injuries limited Liverpool's ability to make changes to the XI.

And this was about as clear cut a case for post-Europa League rotation as you'll ever see.

There was little to mention from the first half. A match full of artisans, lacking in artists. Liverpool did well to control possession, to escape Southampton's intermittent high press, and to limit Southampton opportunities from open play. But Liverpool fatigue meant that there was little pressing from the home side, and Liverpool's lack of direct, pacey attackers meant Southampton had all the time in the world to get behind the ball when Liverpool entered their half.

Liverpool out-shot Southampton 9-4 in the first half, Liverpool had 60% possession. Only four of Liverpool's shots came inside the box: two off-target, two blocked. The lone shot on-target was a supremely tame left-footed effort from Lallana. Meanwhile, three of Southampton's four shots came inside the Danger Zone, including two on-target, and including a clear cut chance from a set play: Mignolet doing well to deny van Dijk after a defensive breakdown on a free kick. You may want to remember that moment.

Things got a little bit better in the second half, mainly because Benteke's introduction for Origi finally gave Liverpool a focal point, an actual, honest-to-goodness goal scoring threat. But for the most part, trends continued. Liverpool controlled tenor and tempo but Liverpool didn't do enough with it. Liverpool did well to limit Southampton's chances on the break, but Southampton did have a couple of chances to break. When Southampton took shots – again, just four in the half – they came from dangerous areas. Liverpool's build-up play was a little better, a bit more varied, but still too deliberate, and Liverpool continued to put the vast majority of its shots off target.

But then, Benteke. Milner's very deep cross, and Benteke absolutely trucking Jose Fonte, bursting to the perfectly placed ball and cannoning a 12-yard header past a hapless Steklenburg. It was more than reminiscent of Gestede's second goal for Villa last month – not the defender's fault, just basically unstoppable when the cross and finish are so good – and an excellent demonstration of why early crosses to Christian Benteke are so dangerous. Anfield erupted, Klopp charged down the sideline with a leaping fist punch. It was the first time Liverpool have scored a meaningful goal in the final 15 minutes of a match since Coutinho at Stoke on Opening Day. Finally, the turning point.

Ha. Hahahahahaha. Nope. We still can't have nice things.

We clearly saw the aforementioned fatigue, both physical and mental, in Southampton's equalizer. Liverpool's entire midfield gassed; Milner, Lucas, and Can struggling to keep up. None could be substituted, with Origi deservedly hauled off at halftime for Benteke and both Lallana and Coutinho even more exhausted, replaced by Firmino and Ibe.

And then Milner, not for the first time, was caught out by Mane's pace, forced to pull him down for a deserved yellow card (somehow, already his fifth of the season, now suspended for Wednesday's League Cup match). And then both Lucas (on Ramirez) and Milner (on Mane) were caught ball-watching as Southampton won multiple flick-ons from Ward-Prowse's free kick, experienced players who should both know better. And then Mane tapped in from less than a yard away, with just four minutes of normal time left, Liverpool and Anfield demonstrably drained.

Neither side even attempted a shot in the final seven minutes, highlighted only by Mane's sending off in the last minute of added time after picking up two yellows in 137 seconds. Somehow, it's even more fitting that when Liverpool conceded a late equalizer, the goal-scorer gets sent off soon after. It was too late to matter, only serving to waste precious seconds and only helping Southampton's next opponents.

It may well be lingering post-Klopp euphoria, but this still felt better than what we'd seen in the months before, in all those previous draws. Southampton are a better side than all but Tottenham, and unlike Liverpool, Southampton had eight days to prepare and an almost full squad to choose from. Benteke demonstrated the difference a real, experienced striker can make; Can remains remarkably busy and a vastly different player under this manager; Sakho and Moreno were quite good in defense. Liverpool's build-up remains too slow, Liverpool's squad remains too small thanks to injuries, Coutinho's form remains a concern. Liverpool (and Anfield) are still waiting for the other shoe to drop when something good actually happens. But these still seem remediable problems.

And unlike Bordeaux, Norwich, Carlisle, Sion, Everton, and Kazan (sigh), 1-1 seems a fair result on the pattern of play. Liverpool had a bit more control of proceedings, Southampton had the better chances. So be it. Little by little, this team will get better, and maybe Liverpool might even win a game or two.


Anonymous said...

Well said! If we end up in the top half of the League this season I will be a very happy bunny! We should grind out the draws and the possible wins until January and maybe have a little bit of money to spend then! :) JK has a massive job in front of him, so I say lets give the man the time and space to create, because I believe he will make us into a great team once again!!!

Anonymous said...

Feels a lot more defensively solid with Klopp. Between the pressing, increased energy and running, Lucas in front of the back line and Can and Milner to each side in a 4-3-2-1. Plus both Sakho and Moreno have been very good defensively, as you mention. Good to see Moreno deployed as a fullback and doing the job defensively and offensively. Rodgers never would have played him there this season. The couple of mistakes he made last season could not be erased from BR's head. Just needed Sakho played next to him instead of Lovren. Now Moreno is up to speed in the Prem with his defensive nous. He should have made the pass to Lallana early in the 2nd half for the simple tap in instead of blasting it.

Interesting that we expected BR to play a 4-3-2-1 after the way he set up in pre season, and then not see it during the regular season. Only for Klopp to come in and use that set up. I like that Klopp obviously understands the importance of Lucas in front of the CB's to make the defense solid. Rodgers never did, inexplicably. And also love that Klopp sees the tremendous play of Sakho and will feel no need to ignore that to justify Lovren's fee and because Lovren is "his guy".

Expect the team to get better with Benteke and Firmino healthy and much better with Henderson's return probably to replace the lackluster Milner. Sturridge will make the side better too, if he can stay fit. Fingers crossed.

There will be a lot more pressure on Mourinho if we beat Chelsea at the Bridge. Roman won't hesitate to pull the plug. Especially if he feels top 4 is in jeopardy, which it is already to some extent. Word is that Abramovich protected himself contractually in the event he needs to end José's 4 year deal early. Some talk about 3rd parties trying to line up Pep for Chelsea next season. Maybe Rafa would hire Mou as his assistant at Real? Who's the "Specialist in Failure" now?

criynwa said...

Great write up again, Nate. Completely agree that the performances under Klopp just feel better. The improvement is there. The players seem to know what they are supposed to do; they show more grit. There seems to be a tactical plan. The mentality is not there yet. The reaction, or lack of reaction, to the goal Soton that scored was disappointing. But on the whole, I am still confident and patient.

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