There are two oft-trotted out cliches about football that both seem remarkably appropriate to use when talking about Liverpool’s 3-2 loss to Southampton. The thing about cliches, of course, is that they’re over-used without meaning anything most of the time, but both mean a hell of a lot in relation to yesterday.
A Game Of Two Halves
This is either a cliche or a description of how a football match works, depending on how you look at it. One thing’s for certain, though, it seemed as if Liverpool played two different teams yesterday, let alone two different 45 minute segments of a game.
I much prefer the match review I get to write where I talk about how Liverpool have learnt lessons of the past and are slowly developing into the form team in the country. The one that talks about the fact that we carried on against Southampton from where we left off against Manchester United.
No surprise both Origi and Sturridge start. Southampton couldn’t cope last time with the two of them
— Sam McGuire (@SamMcGuire90) March 20, 2016
In that match report I discuss our scintillating football and explain how our missed chances in the first half were little more than a preview of what was to come, as we put six past Saints at St. Mary’s for the second time in a season.
I much prefer that match review to the one I’ve actually got to write, to be perfectly honest.
The first-half saw us play arguably the best football we’ve played this season, with Liverpool virtually unstoppable against a Southampton team that didn’t know what had hit them and still seemed to be suffering from their League Cup defeat to us earlier in the season. We played beautiful, free-flowing football and if we had gone in 4-0 up at half-time there really couldn’t have been any complaints.
The Most Dangerous Scoreline In Football
We didn’t go in 4-0 up at half-time, however. Instead we took just the two goal lead after Joe Allen missed a one-on-one and then had another goal somewhat cruelly ruled out for offside. 2-0. The most dangerous scoreline you can have. That other famous cliche in football.
The idea is that if you’ve got a 2-0 lead you don’t know whether to push on and seek a third or sit-back and protect what you’ve got. Here’s the thing, though: that’s usually true for if that’s the lead you’ve got during the second-half. Liverpool haven’t had a 2-0 half-time deficit overturned in the league since 1964. The last time it happened in any competition was against Chelsea in the cup in 1997.
Really poor game management today. Did well to get the lead and had no clue how to handle it.
— Taffin (@CalvLyfeson) March 20, 2016
It’s fair to say, then, that Liverpool messed up here. The message from Jürgen Klopp at half-time really should have been ‘more of the same’. We had our foot on their throat and only have ourselves to blame for letting them back into the game. The truth is that Southampton didn’t even play very well, we were just really, really dreadful in the second-half.
Perhaps there was an arrogance to our play given the first-half performance. More than once several players were trying back-heels or flips that really have no place on a pitch unless you’re 6-0 up and even then you should be trying to preserve your clean-sheet.
That’s what you get for running round like headless chickens trying to play daft passes.
— Philip Blundell (@PhilBlundell) March 20, 2016
Liverpool were sloppy, lazy and lacking in creativity in the second-half – the exact opposite of their first-half performance. Their defensive discipline ebbed away when Dejan Lovren left the field, something that I don’t think anyone thought we’d be saying at this point last season.
Klopp’s Worst Performance
The team also wasn’t helped by what was arguably Jürgen Klopp’s worst performance since his arrival on Merseyside. The German has made a real, genuine and identifiable difference to Liverpool’s way of playing since he ended his sabbatical early to take over from Brendan Rodgers last October.
Some managers believe that there’s little they can offer the team once they’ve crossed the white line onto the pitch. Roy Hodgson, for example, has a huge number of faults and the chief one of these is the notion that once the players run onto the field of play the game is out of his hands. It’s how he’s able to so consistently throw people under the bus and blame them for things a good manager could have done something about.
Klopp is very much not one of those managers. He is proactive, intelligent and thoughtful with his in-game management. When we equalised against United last Thursday that was the twelfth time since Klopp’s arrival that Liverpool have gone behind but have still taken a draw or better from the game.
If you want a more specific example, then look at the first-leg of the UEFA Cup game against United at Anfield. The Red Devils were starting to get back into the game and control the midfield in the second-half when Klopp sent on Joe Allen and we wrestled the match back from them, going on to score our second and refusing to allow them into the game again.
Klopp knows what he’s doing, then. Normally. Perhaps it’s not just the Liverpool players who were feeling tired and drained from the double-header against Manchester United over the last couple of weeks.
Only Klopp knows why he decided to take Dejan Lovren off at half-time. Injury didn’t seem to be a factor, though it’s true that the Croatian’s head seemed to have gone upon his return to his former club. He seemed to be trying too hard to prove a point, be too desperate to have a good game.
Lovren was lucky not to give away a penalty in the first few minutes of the game and deservedly went into the referee’s notebook when he slid into a tackle that he was so clearly never going to make it was a little embarrassing. Perhaps the manager decided to take him off in order to make sure he didn’t get sent off whilst also teaching him a lesson about staying focussed regardless of your opposition.
Only Klopp knows why he decided that Martin Skrtel was the right option to replace Lovren when it was decided that the centre-back would be coming off at half-time. Perhaps it was part of the manager’s plan to re-introduce him gradually after his injury. Maybe he felt that that the game was won and so he wanted to take the opportunity to have a good look at the Slovakian to figure out whether he’s going to be part of his plans moving forward.
Martin Škrtel game by numbers:
3 goals conceded
1 penalty given away
0 tackles won
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 20, 2016
Hopefully he now has his answer.
Despite what some of the more blinkered fans might want to believe, Skrtel has long been one of Liverpool’s bigger problems. He’s survived in the team because, until now, he hasn’t been the biggest.
When was the last time Liverpool were genuinely tremendous at the back for an entire season? Perhaps 2008-2009? Even back then he wasn’t without flaws. In our FA Cup game against Havant & Waterlooville he gave away a needless corner then failed to deal with the resulting cross, causing us to go 1-0 down. Then he was involved in a goalmouth scramble when he failed to get rid of the ball and we went 2-1 down.
He has, for far too long, been at the scene of the crime too often when the Reds have conceded. Though he managed to notch up seven goals during the 2013-2014 season he was also an integral part of a defence that conceded 50 goals, goals that eventually saw the league title slip away to Manchester City rather than come back to Anfield for the first time in the Premier League era.
Two nil up and cruising. Skrtel comes on and is lacking for both Southampton efforts. Weakened at the back.
— Ian Salmon (@IanRSalmon) March 20, 2016
Perhaps it’s unfair to suggest the entire collapse was down to Martin Skrtel. There were ten other players in a Liverpool shirt after all. But the truth of the matter is that he was a large part of the reason that Saints were able to get back into the game.
He gave away a penalty after just moments of being on the pitch and he did so by wrestling with a Southampton striker – an offence he’s committed plenty of times before and has been lucky to get away with it as much as he has.
He caused the defensive unit to lose its solidity and its shape. He plays his own game without any real concern for how the rest of the defence is set-up or operating. That’s not exactly helpful when you’ve got Mamadou Sakho being the unconventional one in your backline as it is.
It’s also worth noting that Jon Flanagan was the player to Skrtel’s right and, as much as he has impressed since his return from injury and his appointment as captain was a well-deserved one, he is still returning from injury and in need of some help from his centre-back when possible.
Skrtel didn’t offer Flanno any help or cover. He was in his own little world, running towards challenges only to see the player and the ball pass him by. He was involved in all three goals and, as has been the case during the closing stages of his Liverpool career, was found wanting on all three occasions.
Perhaps the most damning stat for Skrtel’s performance came in the fact that Liverpool conceded as many goals in the 45 minutes he was on the pitch as they had in the 795 minutes he was absent for.
Much as Simon Mignolet isn’t a terrible goalkeeper but isn’t anywhere near good enough to be a regular starter for Liverpool and Christian Benteke isn’t a terrible striker but isn’t anywhere near good enough to be a regular starter for Liverpool, so Martin Skrtel isn’t good enough either. The sooner the three of them are bombed out of the team for good the better the Reds will be for it.