One thinga s for sure: thanks to this Liverpool FC victory, and also the other results this matchday, the Premier League table makes for a very exciting read. 6th place LFC are now one point behind Southampton FC, only 3 points behind 3rd placed Arsenal, and only a point ahead of Tottenham Hotspur. The race for the top 4 is going to really heat up from this point forth.
Liverpool FC have now achieved a record-breaking away record, with 5 consecutive clean sheets in away fixtures for the first time in 30 years. As far as the game goes, what was expected to be an explosive meeting of two of the Leaguea s most tactically exciting sides, turned out to be a fairly drab, cagey affair.
Surprise Starting Line-ups
Both managers sprung some surprises in how they set their respective sides up. To a certain extent their hands were forced. Mamadou Sakho needed a scan due to an injury scare, forcing Rodgers to start with Dejan Lovren. Meanwhile Sadio Mane didna t make the starting line-up because a wait for it a he was late. Seriously.
Ronald Koeman made an odd decision, especially keeping in mind that Mane didna t start, by not starting the influential Dusan Tadic. Eljero Elia started on the left, with James Ward-Prowse and Filip Djuricic alternating between the central and right attacking roles.
Brendan Rodgers chose to play a striker-less formation, with Raheem Sterling leading the line as Daniel Sturridge and Mario Balotelli warmed the bench. Even more surprising was the fact that both Lazar Markovic and Jordon Ibe were given a start in the wing-back positions. The imprudence of starting Markovic and an out-of-position Emre Can on the same flank that Nathaniel Clyne and Ward-Prowse/ Djuricic would be prowling was there to be seen in the first half. Most of Southamptona s attacks in the first half came down that flank. Rodgers had to eventually substitute Markovic at half-time, bringing on Alberto Moreno in his place.
How Philippe Won The Game
The biggest highlight of the first half was Philippe Coutinhoa s sublime 3rd minute goal. The little Brazilian shifted his feet and launched a curling shot into the top corner, single-handedly giving his side the lead. Scoring a goal-of-the-season contender aside, Coutinho might just have won the game for the team with that goal. With an early lead in hand, Liverpool could focus on staying compact and keeping the Southampton attack out. After wave after wave of ineffectual attacks crashing against a solid Liverpool defence, Koeman must have regretted not starting with Tadic.
A Friend In Need
There were a number of penalty calls in the opening 30 minutes, none of which were given by referee Kevin Friend. Emre Can came close to giving up a spot-kick twice, while Jose Fonte took out Raheem Sterlinga s legs from under him in the box. The referee chose to ignore each of these calls, and let the game proceed. Simon Mignolet had a good first half, though there was an incident close to the end of the first half when he punched a ball dangerously close to the edge of the box, prompting Southampton players to appeal for a sending off. Liverpool were lucky to escape the first half without a single penalty conceded.
Ward-Prowse and Sterling Disappoint
Ward-Prowse and Raheem Sterling were expected to have a major say in proceedings, being amongst the best goal creators for their sides with 6 and 5 assists respectively. But neither really turned up for this game. Sterling got on the score-sheet, but that came about as an error by Matt Targett. Both players created a solitary chance each, and failed to have any major impact on the game.
Southampton Spend Too Much Time Passing In Defence
Southampton had over 60% of the possession, and completed 434 passes against Liverpoola s 270. The problem was that not nearly enough of those passes were in the right attacking zones. Southamptona s most frequent passing combinations were Yoshida to Fonte (18), Davis to Targett (12), and Clyne to Fonte (12) and Targett to Yoshida (12). In comparison, Liverpoola s top passing combinations were Coutinho to Sterling (12), Ibe to Lallana (11) and Sterling to Coutinho (9).
Mostly Dud Subs
The second half picked up where the first left off, with Liverpool happy to sit back and let Southampton huff and puff away. Brendan Rodgers made a very intelligent swap, taking out Markovic for Alberto Moreno, instantly making the team look more balanced. Koeman brought on Morgan Schneiderlin, Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic over the span of the second half, but none of them could really turn the game. The same goes for Daniel Sturridge and Glen Johnson.
Three Vital Points for Liverpool
It was hardly a classic performance by the Merseyside team, and they were lucky not to concede any of the many penalty calls early in the game. But they walk away with 3 points, which is what matters. The team can revel in the fact that they have shown the kind of defensive grit that many thought was beyond them early in the season. A spot in the top 4 is looking a lot more feasible now.