Reds Hold Firm To See Off Saints
After a frustrating result against Spurs last week, Liverpool fans were desperate for a long overdue win at St. Mary’s. Jurgen Klopp opted to make a few changes due to the upcoming match against FC Porto, and Tottenham’s defeat of Arsenal and Manchester United’s loss against Newcastle only heightened the stakes in what was effectively a must-win game. The home fans tried to unsettle Liverpool’s defence by loudly booing Virgil Van Dijk every time he touched the ball, but it was the Saint’s defenders who cracked. After only five minutes Loris Karius was alert following a cross and quickly got the ball to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Ox tried to find Mo Salah, but it seemed as though Wesley Hoedt would clear the ball, unfortunately for the Dutchman, he couldn’t do so and Salah was able to nick it and lay it off to Roberto Firmino who slotted it past Alex McCarthy. Southampton seemed likely to equalise after a number of dangerous crosses, but just before half-time Firmino and Salah struck again after a beautiful backheel from the Brazilian put the Egyptian through for the second goal of the afternoon. The rest of the game was mostly uneventful in a nice change of pace for Liverpool fans who have become begrudgingly used to nail-biting finishes.
Loris Karius – 8: One slightly unconvincing punch that could’ve ended badly early in the game was the only blight on another encouraging performance. Made himself big to deny Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg one on one and pulled off another good save to deny James Ward-Prowse’s header. Had far less to do in the second-half, but dealt with everything that came to him comfortably. His distribution was also markedly more consistent than in previous games; a fact highlighted when he quickly released the Ox, causing the panic that led to Wesley Hoedt’s mistake. Another step in the right direction for the German ‘keeper.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 8: Targeted for most of the game as most attacks came down his side but the youngster stepped up to the plate impressively. Was understandably beaten in the air by Guido Carrillo early one, but luckily the header was driven straight at Karius. His only real mistake of the game came from an under-hit pass-back to Karius which put him under unnecessary pressure.
Joel Matip – 7: An awful miscontrol luckily led to nothing bar from embarrassment, but he quickly made amends by starting the move for the second goal. Was guilty of not dealing with a few crosses but was an essential part of the back-line that produced a much needed clean sheet.
Virgil Van Dijk – 8: Booed mercilessly by the Southampton fans but remained calm and composed from the first minute until the last. Vocal throughout, he chastised his teammates when they were failing to deal with Southampton’s crosses, a true leader in both words and actions.
Andy Robertson – 8: Quiet for most of the first-half, but that was mainly due to most of Southampton’s attacks predominantly coming down the right. A more attacking minded fullback might’ve noticed this immediately and been more aggressive in pushing forward to support the front three. Perhaps having realised just that, he made a couple of good runs later in the half and was involved in the second goal. Put in a dangerous cross that almost saw Mane score a rare headed goal in the second-half.
Emre Can – 7: Mopped up well but didn’t offer too much aside from recycling possession. A loose touch led to him diving in on Oriol Romeu and picking up yet another yellow card. Can should be expected to do more to help win the midfield battle and impose himself onto games more regularly.
Gini Wijnaldum – 6: Extremely quiet first-half but could’ve had an assist if his teammates had been more alert to his excellent low ball to the back post. Bizarrely left the ball for Mane in the second half when he was in a far better position to shoot for goal himself. Was again unable to make his presence felt though, which was especially worrying considering his opponent, Mario Lemina, was battling illness.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 4: Did next to nothing in the first-half aside from his pass that was helped on by Hoedt before Liverpool’s first goal. He was also somewhat wasteful in possession again and was fairly hooked off by Klopp to give way to Milner. He did himself no favours if he wants a regular starting spot and may have to continue to settle for a rotational role.
Mo Salah – 9: The new King of the Kop showed great awareness and ability to set up the first goal. His movement was causing the Southampton defenders major headaches, and it paid off again after a lovely one-two with Firmino. He was harshly denied a chance earlier having been incorrectly judged to have handled the ball in the box. He then created another couple of opportunities for his teammates in the second-half and almost scored another. A truly extraordinary talent, hopefully he stays for many years to come.
Sadio Mane – 6: Had a couple of half-chances in the first-half, but nothing he should be losing sleep over. Admirably is still not visibly allowing this ‘slump’ to affect his confidence as evidenced by an ambitious acrobatic attempt on goal. He was close to scoring with his head and almost assisted Firmino in the second half. Mane was only guilty of being wasteful once when he opted to shoot far too late when the chance to pass or shoot early was on. However, the biggest criticism of Mane has to stem from his lack of defensive awareness when he continually left Robertson exposed in the first-half. Surely a return to top form is just around the corner for the Senegalese winger though.
Roberto Firmino – 9 (Man of the Match): Excellent first-time finish for the first goal, he then returned the favour to Salah with an unbelievable back-heel assist. The Brazilian was popping up everywhere on the pitch in both attacking and defensive situations; he’s a truly invaluable player to this Liverpool system. Had two penalty shouts in the first-half, one was correctly not given, but the second could’ve easily been given on another day despite Firmino going down very easily. Perhaps if he was wearing a Spurs jersey…
James Milner (on for Oxlade-Chamberlain- 61’) – 6: Brought on for the underwhelming Oxlade-Chamberlain to organise the team and help see out the game.
Adam Lallana (on for Firmino – 78’) – 5: Came on to give Firmino a well-earned rest ahead of a critical back-end of the season. Failed to score from seven yards when gifted a chance by Salah.
Dejan Lovren (on for Salah – 89′) – N/A: Brought on as extra security when the Reds had already firmly taken control of the game.
Unused Subs: Simon Mignolet, Alberto Moreno, Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke
Jurgen Klopp – 9: A careful balance needed to be struck with the lineup: give as many players a rest as possible without jeopardising the result, and Klopp did so perfectly. His midfielders struggled in the first-half to take control of the game, and the defenders similarly weren’t coping with Southampton’s crosses. Seeing this, Klopp addressed both issues through his half-time talk and substitutions. He sensibly brought off the Ox after 60 minutes, a welcome sight in the sense that Klopp has often been criticised for leaving his substitutions too little time to make an impact.
Reds Finally See Out a Narrow Lead With Ease
In a somewhat uncharacteristic display, Liverpool were able to see out a game professionally, and in all honesty, they hardly looked like letting it slip. In stark contrast to previous games, Liverpool seemed to get more composed and in control as the game went on, it seemed inevitable that Southampton would be left goalless. Of course, the Saints had their chances in the first-half, and perhaps the Reds were arguably lucky to go into the break with a 2-0 lead. However, the second half showed a new side to this Liverpool team that hopefully is the beginning of a new trend. It will need to be if the Reds want to go on to win silverware in the near future.
Firmino and Salah Magic
Salah has been endlessly praised by all football fans this season despite the ludicrous notion that he would flop as he supposedly did at Chelsea. To be well and truly in the shout for top-goalscorer from a wide position is a remarkable achievement for any player, let alone one that also creates countless chances for his teammates and is not a regular set-piece taker. Firmino on the other hand rarely receives widespread praise, or at least not to the extent that Liverpool fans know he deserves. Surely this has to change sooner or later because regardless of Salah’s goals, it is Firmino that makes this team tick. Hopefully his continued underappreciation from those outside of the Liverpool fanbase will mean that no other teams try and persuade him to move on like his compatriot Philippe Coutinho.
Champions League Football
There’s little time to celebrate an excellent result as the focus now turns to Champions League football on two fronts. There’s the midweek fixture in Portugal against the dangerous Porto and the battle for the remaining three Champions League places rages on after that. The likes of Mignolet, Lovren, Moreno, Milner and Jordan Henderson will be fresh after a rest and raring to go if selected; and Joe Gomez could return along with Lallana. It is crucial to get a good result in the first-leg in order to gain progression into the quarter-finals. West Ham meanwhile will be able to sit back and plot as they seek to snatch a result in the next league game at Anfield. Manchester United and Arsenal both lost their respective fixtures but the race is far from over, and Liverpool will have to maintain extremely high standards to finish the season off strongly and secure a top-four finish.
You’ll Never Walk Alone
Cieren O’Dea for Red Or Dead – Liverpool FC Football Blog – on 12/02/2018.