19 November 2016

Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

That was almost exactly the same match we saw after the last international break.

Liverpool underwhelmed, especially in the first half, controlling possession but creating next to nothing. The opposition did exceptionally well to smother Liverpool's usually potent attack, and that was all the opposition looked to do.

But Liverpool had chances to win. Liverpool probably should have won. Liverpool slowly ratcheted up the pressure in the second half as the opposition tired. Liverpool got behind the back line a few times, Liverpool had two clear-cut chances. Liverpool simply just didn't put enough of their shots on-target. Because Liverpool put just two shots on-target, from 15 in total. Forster did excellently to save the first, from Mané in the 28th, with the second from Firmino in the 82nd a bit easier.

You're not gonna win many matches with just two shots on-target. Unless you're Burnley facing Liverpool, but let's not go there sometimes I just can't help myself. You need to capitalize on the few mistakes the opposition makes or you create through a typically fevered press. You need Coutinho to not mis-hit his shot in the 49th. You need Firmino, put through by Coutinho in the 68th, to score when one-on-one with the keeper. You need Clyne to convert an easy back-post header set up by Sturridge in the 80th.

Incidentally, Adam Lallana missed that 0-0 draw against Manchester United as well.

At least Liverpool are getting their few-and-far-between clean sheets in the matches where they fail to score as well. Southampton offered almost nothing in attack, but we've seen opponents score from almost nothing before. Southampton failed to put a single shot on-target, taking just three in total, but Southampton still had one frightening chance: Austin heading wide from Cedric's cross in the 58th minute. It started from a giveaway in midfield, it came from a cross, it ended with Liverpool losing an aerial duel. We've seen this film before. But it didn't go in.

So, today probably should have been better, but today also could have been worse.

It's not as if we've seen similar, from Liverpool and from others, after an international break away from home in a cold, windy, rainy match with a crucial link player missing.

Credit where due: Southampton defended excellently, with Romeu denying space and opportunities for passes all over and van Dijk making critical blocks and winning critical headers. Meanwhile, only Matip, preventing a few potential counter-attacks with both pace and strength, stood out for Liverpool, with Wijnaldum the most disappointing for his lack of involvement, especially considering who he replaced in the line-up. I'd have liked to see Sturridge earlier – it's confusing that Klopp often waits so long to make attacking substitutions, but I know it's because Klopp Trusts The Process, seeing Liverpool's incremental improvement and hoping the original plan will come through – but I'm not sure it'd have made that much of a difference.

Not that I'm much for player ratings, but it's was a match full of sixes for Liverpool. Those matches happen, at any time and any place, but you're especially prone to them after an international break, away from home, etc.

Feeling the need to find silver linings, it is still an improvement on this fixture last season, where Liverpool stupidly threw away a two-goal lead. Liverpool have now gained nine points on last season's 12 equivalent fixtures. At worst, Liverpool will be one point off the top if Chelsea win at Middlesbrough tomorrow, level with Manchester City after their narrow win at Crystal Palace.

This may have been a disappointing performance, but it wasn't a bad performance. Liverpool did Liverpool things – most of the Liverpool things that have so impressed this season – but on the whole, it was mediocre, and mediocre wasn't quite good enough. Mediocre happens. Just don't lose when mediocre happens. It's an improvement on Liverpool's previous disappointing or bad performances: more patient and coherent than at Burnley, with the added bonus of not unnecessarily conceding, and creating better chances than against similarly parked bus in Manchester United.

This may be a disappointing result, but it's not a bad result. And Liverpool roll on.

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