There’s something of a bizarre rivalry that has built-up in the heads of Southampton fans in recent times. I’m honestly not sure that Liverpool supporters boo Everton or Manchester United players as much as they boo their ex-lads who now line up for us. It’s sort of understandable, of course. It’s never easy to lose your best players to another team and the Saints have lost a good chunk of theirs to us over the past five years or so. Yet it’s not as if they’ve dug a tunnel out of the training ground and escaped in the dead of the night. We’ve paid them in the region of £200 million for Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana, Sadio Mané and, most recently of all, Virgil van Dijk. I honestly don’t get why the fans are annoyed with players the club has been handsomely rewarded for rather than absolutely furious with a board that has consistently failed to replace them.
Boos for Van Dijk from the (approximately) 64 Southampton fans currently inside the stadium as an early team sheet reading is conducted. The home end is also kitted out with clappers. The joy.
— Kristian Walsh (@Kristian_Walsh) February 11, 2018
In the summer, Southampton resolutely refused to sell us van Dijk, despite the fact that we were willing to pay them £75 million for his signature. That’s ok, that’s essentially the same thing that we did with Philippe Coutinho and Barcelona. The difference was that Saints desperately needed some attacking players. Scoring goals what they were struggling to do, with more than enough options at the back to cover for the loss of the Dutchman. That was especially true when you consider that he was completely lacking match fitness. Instead of shifting him on and spending the money strengthening their team, the powers that be at St. Mary’s decided to get him back to match fitness for us and not buy any goal-scorers for the first-team. They’re in a relegation battle because of the people running the club, not the players that left it. So how would the old boys do upon returning to their former home?
We’re Not Playing All That Well
There’s an odd thing when it comes to talking about performances that aren’t particularly great. If we sit and watch Manchester City play poorly but score goals we say it’s a sign of a title-winning side. If we watch Manchester United do the same thing we say ‘typical stuffy Mancs’. Yet when we watch our own team misplace passes and generally looking a bit lacking in a cutting edge then we make statements such as ‘we’d get battered by a better team’. The reality is that we weren’t particularly good throughout the first-half, constantly giving the ball away and inviting Southampton to attack us, but we also scored two goals.
On the one hand, that’s exactly what players with the quality of Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino give you – a killer instinct. On the other hand, results against the likes of Swansea City and Everton show that under-cooked performances can sometimes lead to dropped points that can, in turn, see you slip further down the league than you deserve. With the Red Devils losing to Newcastle United earlier in the day, Liverpool had a chance to go two points behind our old rivals with a win at St. Mary’s, yet we really should have been able to go several points clear of them if we’d won the matches that we’d out-played the opposition in earlier in the season. Despite taking an early lead, we were off-the-boil enough make it look like Southampton could get something out of the match. The second goal, right at the end of the first-half, killed the game as a meaningful contest. Southampton, however, will doubtless have looked at our previous performances in which we’ve dropped points, along with the fact that we’ve conceded five goals after the eightieth minute so far this season, and taken heart. It’s not that we didn’t have any chances, we did. Sadio Mané and Adam Lallana all had opportunities to score a third goal and kill the game off completely. When you don’t take them, though, you always wonder whether that’s going to come back to haunt you. All it would take for the home side was a goal and a bit of pressure and the resolve of the Reds would be tested. The good news was that we looked well organised at the back, perhaps on account of our £75 million central defender who has been marshalling the line well since his arrival.
The main concern for Jürgen Klopp will surely be that we’ve not looked our consistently destructive selves for a while now. The loss to West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup came on the back of a defeat away to Swansea, whilst the second-half performance against Tottenham was genuinely concerning considering the level of opposition we’ll be facing if we’re able to progress in the Champions League. We seemed to begin this match as we left off that home game against Spurs and the scoreline perhaps masks an inadequate display. Or is that me being unfair, as I suggested supporters tend to be at the start of this segment? After all, if Chelsea or Arsenal had put in the same performance we’d be saying that it was typical of a team that knows how to get the job done. Before the game supporters said ‘just win’. We did exactly that.
Roberto Firmino Is The Best Forward In The League For Us
Last week former Liverpool striker John Aldridge made a comment about how he thinks Liverpool would be closer to Manchester City in the league if only they had a ‘spearhead goalscorer who gets you 25 to 30 goals a season’. It was the sort of ill thought-out, moronic comment that you’d expect from some randomer on Twitter, but it’s not the kind of comment that a former professional football should be making. Anyone with even a passing interest in the game can see exactly what it is that the Brazilian brings to this team, not only in terms of work-rate but also in the way that he brings other players in to the game. When you’ve got the likes of Mané and Salah in the team the last thing you want is a striker that hogs the central areas.
🤔 Hmmmm….. 🗣️ John Aldridge: “Firmino is a great player but if we’d have had a spearhead goalscorer who gets you 25 or 30 goals a season who knows how far we’d have been behind Man City.” Thoughts, @Carra23? Read: https://t.co/DXJ3L0UhCn pic.twitter.com/H0d4nGiMnM
— Sky Sports PL (@SkySportsPL) February 7, 2018
Firmino knows how to drop deep in order to create space, he’s aware of when to move out in order to drag defenders with him and he’s also fairly deadly in front of goal himself. He proved as much with our opener, when he drifted into the centre and slotted the ball past Alex McCarthy in the Southampton goal. That’s to say nothing of the understanding he seems to be getting with Mo Salah, for whom he played a delicious pass for the second goal. It’s almost impossible to describe, such is the beauty of it. He dragged it back and flipped it through for the Egyptian to run on to, completely bamboozling the Saints defenders. It was absolutely brilliant, but not the sort of goal that you’ll see scored with any degree of consistency if you’ve got the likes go Harry Kane or Romelu Lukaku in your side.
That’s not to say that either of those players aren’t good enough, of course. They’re both great at what they do, with Kane in particular making me look like an idiot from when I declared a couple of seasons ago that his form was temporary. If I’m honest, I still don’t quite understand how he scores as many goals as he does; but then I imagine that Tottenham fans might well say the same thing about Firmino. For me personally, I’d have the Brazilian in the side over any other player in the league, such the impact that I believe he has on the team around him. The issue that Klopp has got is that we can’t afford to lose him to injury if we’re hoping to ensure we finish in a top four slot. Dominic Solanke is still too young and inexperienced to depend upon, whilst Danny Ings has fitness issues that mean you’re always afraid he might get injured. Keep going, Roberto – you’re our only hope.
We Should Be Looking Up, Not Down
Today’s result put us back into third place, two points ahead of Spurs and four in front of Chelsea, albeit with the Blues having a game in hand on us. Manchester United will undoubtedly close out the remainder of the season without any bother, but I think we need to be targeting our old foe rather than worrying about what’s behind us. Spend the rest of the season trying to chase down the Red Devils and Spurs and Chelsea will be taken care of accordingly. I genuinely believe that, for all of our faults, we’re the second-best team in the country. We have now conceded 39 goals in our last 38 games under Klopp, which is a little over a goal a game. That doesn’t mean that we’re defensively solid, but we’re much better than people give us credit for.
#LFC currently 39 goals conceded in the last 38 EPL games. The lowest in any 38 game sequence under Klopp. 16 clean sheets in last 33 EPL games, only United have more (18).
— Dan Kennett (@DanKennett) February 11, 2018
In attack we’re sensational, being amongst the top five teams in all of Europe when it comes to away goals. We’re really, really close to being a genuinely excellent team and if we can finish this season strongly then we’ll go into the next one full of confidence that we might actually be able to challenge City for the title. A second-place finish in the Premier League would give the players and supporters belief in our ability, but it will also be a notice to potential signings that we’re building something real at Anfield. Today’s result wasn’t all that impressive in and of itself, but it’s put us in a position to look at Manchester United ahead of us rather than Arsenal or Chelsea behind. Let’s all be West Brom supporters tomorrow.
We Can’t Take Throw-Ins
This is only a minor point, but we really don’t know how to take a throw-in. It’s been bothering me for some time and I really can’t stop noticing it. It doesn’t matter whether it goes out of play on the left-hand or right-hand side, nor is it different if it’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Andrew Robertson or Alberto Moreno taking it, we invariably end up seeing the opposition attacking us from our own throws. That might seem like nit-picking, but at some point it really could cause us problems. I’m not saying that we should try to get former Tranmere defender Dave Challinor out of retirement or anything, but I’m intrigued to know if it’s something that the manager actually works on with his team.
Klopp is well-known for having faith in his players, asking them to ‘work it out’ on the pitch almost irrespective of the problem they’re faced with. Perhaps, therefore, he doesn’t think that movement around throw-ins is that important. If you think this entire section is a bit daft or I’m exaggerating then start watching our throws. I promise you that we end up in problem virtually every single time. You can even re-watch this match and around the nineteenth minute mark Alexander-Arnold has a throw to take down our righthand side. He edges forward, edges forward and looks for an option in front of him. There’s no real movement and so eventually he throws it almost hopefully and it ends up back in the possession of Southampton.