Liverpool travelled to the south coast to take on Southampton just three days after their exhausting UEFA Super Cup final against Chelsea.
In a match that was tough for the Reds, Southampton pushed them all the way with a spirited performance, with the Anfield outfit being thoroughly outplayed in many periods of the game, only exacerbated by their sloppiness in possession and sluggishness in pressing.
The home side put in a performance to remember against a classy side, and were unlucky to not bag at least a point from the game. Liverpool, though clearly fatigued after a 120-minute game in midweek, showed character to squeeze through at the end and move to the top of the table.
Here’s a look at five things we learned from the action…
Sloppy Liverpool still not at their best
Four matches into the new season, Liverpool have not yet got back into their groove. The Champions League winners opened their season with a penalty shoot-out loss to Man City in the Community Shield, a game in which their defensive line was exposed, and they were uncharacteristically wasteful.
Even in the 4-1 win against Norwich, the score-line does not tell the entire tale. They were constantly under pressure, and were bailed out by a combination of Adrian and sloppy finishing several times. The Chelsea game was another reminder of the fact that they’re not quite back yet – and they weren’t the better team today for large parts.
In today’s game, despite the positive result, there were many negatives that Klopp will no doubt ponder over. A bright half hour period after half time took them over the line, but before and after that, mistakes underlined the performance.
Adrian made two mistakes on the ball before the disastrous goal he gifted to Ings, and Matip gave the ball away in a dangerous area, before almost scoring an own goal later in the game. Trent Alexander-Arnold, usually so mature, gave away the ball to Djenepo by trying something overly cute, and pulled him back for a clear yellow.
Even the front line were not great today. Firmino missed a sitter, and Salah had a grand total of nine touches in the first half. For most of the game, they did not look like a club that played in the Champions League, much less won it.
Southampton are on the right track
Hasenhüttl had a repair job last season, gaining control of the Saints at a horrendous time for the club, guiding them to a 16th placed finish last season – which was quite decent after taking over with the club in the relegation zone just before Christmas.
However, after a full pre-season not hampered by many international duties, and fresh legs added to the team, the Saints once again showed encouraging signs of embracing the Alpine Klopp’s philosophy. They pressed energetically, and as a team, with each player charging down the visitors and forcing mistakes. The eventual goal came from pressing, too – and from a clever substitution by Hasenhüttl – as Danny Ings closed down Adrian to get his first of the season.
New boy Che Adams was effective, proving to be a nuisance for Joel Matip, who couldn’t quite track down his incessant movement and timely runs. James Ward-Prowse’s development was also quite apparent, with the dead ball expert providing brilliant balls into the box and pressing enthusiastically throughout the game, as well as potentially saving a goal when his intelligent reading of the game prompted him to intercept a header that was destined for Mane to bury.
In both games this season, Southampton haven’t been half bad, and were probably the superior team on the day, but a bit of luck and a bit of magic cost them. However, they aren’t too far away from a win and their fans will go home encouraged after last weekend’s capitulation.
Lapses of concentration cost both sides
In the first half, Southampton did almost everything right defensively, with Angus Gunn not being called upon for anything untoward. They continuously ran at Liverpool, and brought the game to them. However, they lost their concentration in the last minute of the half, giving just a little space to Sadio Mane – who punished them with a finish nothing short of spectacular.
At the other end, it was Adrian whose erroneous judgement cost Liverpool an extremely nervy end to a game that was in cruise control. He tried to confuse the incoming Ings by playing a cheeky pass to Fabinho that was never really on. Ings, however, read it perfectly and stuck his leg out to pull one back for the Saints. Although it was too little too late for the home side, Adrian reminded Liverpool fans of that Karius moment, and showed just how integral Alisson’s coolness is to the Reds – especially when playing out from the back.
However, it is Ings who will look back on this game with despair – as he had a golden opportunity to nab a brace and get a deserved point for his team, when he met Valery’s cross right in front of goal but failed to convert. Che Adams had a decent opportunity for a header as well, although he hit it off target after a great run. It was not just the goals, but also the misses, that ultimately decided this match.
Personal brilliance key in deciding such tight games
“Football is the ballet of the masses”. In close encounters, and matches with lethargy and fatigue, a moment of grace, elegance, brilliance – is all that can save you. And that is exactly where Liverpool was superior today.
Southampton’s only goal was created by the relentlessness of Ings, in the hope that Adrian would make an error. Their other chances were created by the beauty of Ward-Prowse and Valery’s crosses into the box – that should have been tucked home.
Liverpool, although extremely tired, relied on individual moments of magic from quality players. Sadio Mane. Top bins from the edge of the area. Roberto Firmino. Reverse shot to wrong-foot Gunn. Game over.
Ex-players steal the limelight
Liverpool’s starting XI consisted of three former Saints – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane (Lallana was an unused sub), and all of them showed up. Oxlade-Chamberlain was not decent after a long-term knee injury and showed signs of coming back to form, with encouraging long-distance shots and a glorious one-two with Salah to go through on goal.
Liverpool’s defensive line was no doubt a disaster today – but if there was one thing in common with all their errors, it was that van Dijk was never at fault. He was the calm in the storm, holding things together when all around him were faltering. He also provided moments of flair – dribbling past three players in a driving run, and producing a deft touch when he needed to keep possession.
Sadio Mane, another Southampton old boy – was Liverpool’s talisman on the day, showing off his quality and raw pace on various occasions, especially when he fired the ball brilliantly into the top right corner from the edge of the box against the run of play, and when he provided a mind-blowing pass to Firmino that should have been finished after a rapid burst of pace.
Contrastingly, ex-Liverpool star Ings was on the scoresheet after pouncing on an Adrian mistake to nab what was a consolation goal for the Saints, much to the delight of the crowd at St. Mary’s.