In a game where a rejuvenated Liverpool were expected to roll over Southampton and continue their apparent quest to reach the champions league, the Saints produced a dominant display, winning 3-1 and giving the side a big boost in their survival bid.
Right from the off Southampton looked to dominate the game, a key feature of this being the high pressing game so heavily favoured by Pochettino, which is always likely to test any team, particularly one with the attacking intent of Liverpool. Against QPR, the tactics of Harry Redknapp were to sit 10 men behind the ball for long periods before hitting the ball long down the wing to allow for the wingers to use their pace to run-in behind the defence, which was a tactic that, as much as it pains me to say it about Redknapp, worked perfectly.
This was always going to be different though. Liverpool came to win, and as a result were looking to get men forward, with Suarez and Sturridge remaining high up the pitch for the most part as it was. This allowed Saints to implement the high pressing style most effectively, putting Liverpool under pressure when not in possession, and exploiting the space available when possession was regained. Quite simply in the first half Saints were more energetic, quicker to the ball and generally better than their opponents and could have easily had four or five by half time.
Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork controlled the midfield, keeping Gerrard quiet, and causing the disappointing Joe Allen numerous problems. Only the lively Philippe Coutinho looked to cause problems to the Saints midfield, drifting into the gaps between the midfield and defence effectively and making himself a general nuisance for a slightly fallible looking defence, which was grateful for the help received by Cork and Schneiderlin in front of them.
Liverpool were restricted to playing long passes to start attacks, which although a positive sign from the Southampton perspective, did cause occasional trouble for the backline with the pace of Suarez and Sturridge looking to exploit any errors. However, they created very few clear cut chances in the first half and it was a surprise when Coutinho took advantage of some sloppy defending to get Liverpool a goal back before the interval.
With the boost of that goal Liverpool were always likely to come out fighting in the second half, and they begun by dominating possession and putting Saints on the back foot without ever really hurting the Saints back line, Jose Fonte’s introduction had helped the side deal with the pace of the Liverpool strike force, and we were coping fairly comfortably with anything Liverpool had to throw at us.
The third Saints goal came after increased pressure from the home side and wrapped up the three points, but perhaps best of all, it was scored by the man of the match, Jay Rodriguez. Rodriguez has improved dramatically since Pochettino’s arrival, mainly adapting to a role on the wing as has been requested of him by both Pochettino and Adkins before that, but he was given a central role yesterday, playing just behind Rickie Lambert, and he produced a superb display, exploiting the space between the midfield and defence, while looking to run at a shaky Liverpool defence time and time again. His goal exemplified this and although he had a bit of a fortune with his first shot rebounding straight to him, it was fortune that he, and the team, thoroughly deserved.
On the flip side though remains the defence, which looked decidedly uncomfortable at times despite never coming under concerted pressure. It’s a concern that must be addressed, as Southampton were so dominant going forward but never safe in the match, purely because of a back line that are struggling for consistency. Jose Fonte made a big difference, and although the defending wasn’t always bad, they got away with quite a few hugely avoidable moments as a result of shocking distribution and passing. They seem to lack leadership there and have got to start making better decisions when required, but I believe that they will continue to improve over time.
In summary, I have no doubt that all the headlines will be about how poorly Liverpool played and how shocking a result it was for them. But this is ignorant and doesn’t take into account the sensational performance of Southampton, who dominated for large periods of the game and thoroughly deserved their win. There is still a long way to go before survival is ensured, but after that display, confidence will be high that it can be done and the players, and fans, will await the next game against Chelsea eagerly.