Liverpool take the lead. Liverpool throw away the lead. Liverpool turn a victory into a draw that feels like a defeat. Haven’t we been here before? Recently? Not that recently, to be fair, as last time the Reds managed to go a goal down before they came back for the draw, but the outcome was the same even if the journey took in different sights.
It’s frustrating to be a Liverpool supporter right now. In our last piece we wrote about the nature of support inside Anfield and how it seems to be at its lowest ebb for some time. But then when you look at the results over the past year or so it’s easy to figure out why people might not be climbing all over each other to sing and shout and let it all out for Jurgen’s men.
Here, then, we look at the game against Southampton and all of the talking points that accompany it. Jurgen himself said recently that his Dortmund side knew how to draw a game in his first season – fifteen of them, if memory serves – and were very difficult to beat but didn’t quite know how to turn those times when they shared the spoils into an outright win. Let’s see if we can touch upon some of the key areas of why the Reds seems to be Dortmund mark II.
As always please do get involved. If you don’t like something we’ve said, let us know. If you think we’re missing some rather obviously talking points then do get in touch. We try not to repeat ourselves – unlike Liverpool – so do have a look at our other match reviews and see if we’ve already covered your point in there. Leave a comment, tweet us, send a carrier pigeon – whatever takes your fancy.
Phil In The Gap
Philippe Coutinho needs a rest. Like a lot of these players the fella seems like he’s played too much football lately. He’s a supremely talented footballer that has the ability to change games in an instant, but right now he’s doing the same things, making the same mistakes and falling into the same traps every single game.
He’s scored some absolute belters for Liverpool during his time at Anfield. From match winners against Manchester City through to the absolute screamer versus Stoke that won us the opening game of the season, the lad knows how to do the spectacular. But at the moment every time he pulls his leg back and shapes up to shoots it’s difficult to resist the temptation to stick needles in your eyes.
There’s plenty of debate around Philippe Coutinho’s best position on the pitch. For some he’s a natural number 10, swerving his hips and dropping his shoulders with the best of them to make himself something akin to a David Silva, between the lines type player. For others he’s at his best when he’s sitting further back and looking at the options in front of him, picking a pass and threading a through ball like a thread being place through the eye of a needle.
Whatever your personal opinion on where the lad should play we can probably all agree that right now things aren’t working out for the mercurial Brazilian. Admittedly he’s not at his best when he doesn’t have many options going forward and that’s something we’re going to come on to discuss shortly. He’s struggling right now, however, and it feels like he could do with a bit of a break.
Is he the sort of player who would benefit from some time on the sidelines? His reaction to not being called up to the Brazil squad by Dunga suggests not. It isn’t that he’s been sulking, exactly, but if his recent form has been an attempt to persuade his national manager that he deserves another shot at the big time for his country then he’s failed rather badly.
Against Southampton he was, to coin a phrase, playing all of the right notes but not necessarily in the right order. As much as he’s not aided by the lack of decent strikers, of course, he’s also let down by his fellow midfielders. Emre Can is an extremely willing player and his running and pressing is admirable. But the phrase ‘brain dead’ is definitely one that can apply to the try-hard German. There are only so many times you can watch a player get the ball caught under his feet and kill an attack dead before you start to lose the will to live.
Lucas was arguably the man of the match for the Reds, yet he’s never going to be the attacking impetus you want to see in your team. There was a moment when he had a Gerrard-esque shot on the half volley from miles outside the area that we’d all have loved to see fly in but that we knew in our heart of hearts was never going to get anywhere near the Southampton goal.
Adam Lallana continues to look impressive since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp and may, alongside Alberto Moreno, be one of the players who has flourished the most since the departure of Brendan Rodgers. But he’s still looking to take too many touches when he really doesn’t need to – something we’ll talk about later, too.
Then there’s James Milner. Old Jimmy M, or Milny as our new manager seems to be keen to call him. He probably rivals Lucas for the player with the most football intelligence in the team, yet rather than doing everything well like we know he can he seems desperate to turn it all up to eleventy-stupid and do it as fast as any footballer has ever done anything. It’s telling that the one moment he looked up, took a breath and delivered a quality ball was the one moment that resulted in a goal. It’s equally telling that his moronic foul led almost directly to the equaliser.
So surrounded by players who all seem to want to be doing different things and playing in different ways it’s perhaps no surprise that Coutinho’s struggling. Right now, though, he’s not fun to watch. Everyone knows when he’s going to shoot at goal and every knows that he’s going to miss or find his shot blocked on 99 times out of his 100 attempts, so can’t someone tell him to just pack it in for a bit? Please?
Liverpool kept the ball well against Southampton. To the naked eye they seemed to be in control of the spherical object the whole world craves for the vast majority of the football match. The stats say that they had possession for 60% of the 90 minutes, so to an extent they bear out what it felt like we were watching. But what did they do with all of that possession, exactly?
They had shots, obviously. 15 shots, as it happens. They also forced corners – 10 of them, all told. But they didn’t ever put Maarten Stekelenburg under any real pressure. He wasn’t asked to do an awful lot, and those same stats say that of the 15 shots the Reds attempted only 2 of them were on target. That’s not the most jump-out-of-your-seat-exciting stat we’ve ever seen. How many of the shots were blocked? How many sailed wide? How many were so utterly pointless that they made the entire crowd grown with frustration? The stats say 13 but it felt like an awful lot more.
Southampton, on the other hand, looked dangerous every time they went forward. Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle didn’t create a huge amount but they did look like they had the measure of a Liverpool defence that seems to be far more versed in throwing leads away than it is in holding on to them. The Saints had 8 shots on Liverpool’s goal – 7 fewer than the Reds – but hit the target with 3 of them – one more than us.
If Southampton’s possession was 20% less than Liverpool’s in volume but more than twice as effective, what does that say about the Reds moving forward? We’ll talk about the attacking options later on, but should the team be slightly more effective at using there possession than they’re currently managing?
At And Could He Play headquarters we’ve long been admirers of Adam Lallana, particularly in light of his recent displays under Jurgen Klopp. Yet for all of his industry he is really, really lacking in quality where it matters. One of his shots against his former team last night was so weak he could easily have been thinking he still played for them and was trying to play a gentle back pass to his old goalkeeper. He is the master at taking seven or eight touches when one or two would be much more effective.
It’s natural, of course, that the home team will always look better on the ball than the opposition team when it seems as if they have come with the aim of happily settling for a point. It’s also the case that the away team will look better on the counter attack than the home side, with the latter leaving gigantic spaces behind them as they look to push on for a goal or two with which to change the match.
Liverpool in 2013-2104 were lightening fast on the break, however, hitting the opposition before they even knew where they were on the pitch. Yes Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge were leading the line, but Philippe Coutinho was still there pulling the strings and Mignolet and Skrtel were trying – and failing – to keep things solid at the back. We’re not forgetting that this is a different manager, asking different things of his players, either. But is it really so impossible for players to get the ball out from under the feet as quickly as possible before moving it on to a player at the top end of the pitch? Southampton are a naturally attacking side and certainly don’t lack intention in the final third, so could we have sat back and invited them on before hitting them on the counter?
The answer is ‘no’, of course. Liverpool’s defence right now doesn’t know how to remain cool under pressure. Mamadou Sakho was immense last week in the Europa League game against Rubin Kazan and one of Brendan Rodgers’ greatest failures during his time at Anfield is that he got caught up in the politics of the game to such a degree that he often neglected to use the powerful Frenchman. Yet for all of his good work since his return to the side he still failed to deal with a couple of routine incidents during the match and was fortunate not to be punished for them in the first half.
If Liverpool’s dominance of possession is current little more than sterile then it’s surely to some extent because of the fact that they’re terrified to give the ball away lest the concede a goal. Jurgen Klopp himself spoke of the necessity to stabilise things at the back in order to allow the more creative players to flourish. If Benteke’s goal was a moment of brilliance that had the German manager leaping along the touchline, the equaliser was a little bit of history repeating that we’re surely all bored to death of watching. Use that 60% possession a little bit more effectively and we can all relax a little bit when we’re witnessing the other 40%. Right now it’s the team without the ball that seems to be the most effective.
A Blunt Instrument
There are a lot of positive things to be said about Divock Origi. The Belgian youngster has spent three games on the bounce working extremely well for the team, running himself into the ground and doing his utmost to give Liverpool every chance of success in the final third. The problem is that he’s rubbish.
Ok ‘rubbish’ might not be the fairest word to describe him, but he’s not the killer player Liverpool need him to be in the opposition’s penalty area. The phrase ‘a game of two halves’ is an oft used one that reached the point of being a cliche a long time ago. It definitely felt like one yesterday, however, when Divock Origi was replaced by Christian Benteke at the break. Liverpool suddenly looked so much more dangerous going forward, with the lack of a decent final ball being killer to so many good moves by the Reds.
It’s important to remember during any discussion of Liverpool’s current form that they are missing not just their first choice striker, not just their second choice striker and not even just their third choice striker but, rather, all of the above. Divock Origi wasn’t brought in to the club to be Liverpool’s first choice striker and most assumed he’d be getting to grips with the English game in the League Cup or in FA Cup games against lowly opposition. That he’s had to be the first name on the team sheet against Tottenham Hotspur, Rubin Kazan and now Southampton is a sign of just how dire the injury crisis has become for Liverpool.
It doesn’t take much to take something blunt and make it sharp, however. The return of Benteke for 45 minutes would certainly have given root to some small excitement at the back of Jurgen Klopp’s mind. That Roberto Firmino was also able to make an appearance and look good on the ball and intelligent in his movement will not have gone unnoticed – much like the Brazilian’s new hairstyle.
Liverpool need to be patient at a time and in a league that doesn’t really do patience. Daniel Sturridge’s latest injury isn’t linked to the ones that he’s suffered from in the past, though it is certainly as frustrating as all of those were. He seems like the sort of player that won’t necessarily do the same amount of pressing as everyone else does in a Jurgen Klopp team, but that will definitely benefit from the space and chances it can offer.
Christian Benteke showed once again yesterday just why he’s such a good striker, but also why match fitness means more than just how much a player has run around in a competitive game. His header was glorious, sumptuous, scrumptious and many other things beside. Yet he also missed a chance so easy the only way it could have seemed more nailed on was if the opposition player had taken a bung to let him score. Match fitness is more than just whether a player is up to scratch with the running and the jumping; it’s about whether their mind is attuned to the speed of the game and their focus is in the right place so that when they are presented with a great chance they know how to take it.
With Divock Origi, Adam Lallana, James Milner and an out of form Philippe Coutinho being the main attacking options Liverpool will always look like they don’t know quite how to see a game out. Replace some or all of them with Christian Benteke, Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino and Jordan Henderson, however, and the Reds will suddenly look a hell of a lot sharper. It’s time to turn the butter knife into one that is suitable to cut through a steak, and with Jose Mourinho’s struggling Chelsea coming up next there’s no time like the present to draw as much blood as they can.
The Rhyme Of The Ancient Marriner
Has he made a decision
With any precision
This useless little sh*t?
If he gives a free kick
Will we always nitpick
Because we know he’s mis-called it?
He stands there in black
The game behind his back
Completely and utterly lost.
‘Did he see that? Did he see this?’
If you need to ask you’re taking the p*ss,
A line’s already been crossed.
It’s not just for us
That he makes such a fuss
He does it for others, too.
Play in Red or play in white,
He’ll never get a decision right
He’ll book you for saying ‘boo’.
Maybe we’re wrong with all that we say
And you think the fella’s more than ok,
Perhaps you rate him quite highly.
We’re not massive fans
When our game’s in his hands
So we’ll send this ode to Mike Riley.
Perhaps you can tell from this little ditty
That we often find his decisions quite sh*tty,
We’re sorry if you disagree.
But isn’t it mad
That it isn’t a fad
That he’s paid such a ridiculous fee?
We shouldn’t complain
But he’s ruining the game
That we and so many do love
Maybe one time
He’ll ref and be fine
– We’ll thank the heavens above.
Of course it might be
That you all disagree
So we’ll just sit with a face on.
We know we’re quite hateful
And should really be grateful
That at least he isn’t Lee Mason.