Just as 2020 has ended with Liverpool reflecting on an incredible year in their club history, 2021 begins with a historic defeat to Southampton who outplayed the Reds and has proven the defensive issues in the team are not just the only problems Jürgen Klopp must address if he wishes to retain the league title.
The team news going into this fixture largely benefitted the travelling team. Thiago Alcântara’s impressive cameo against Newcastle United proved his fitness was improving and he was named in the starting eleven for Liverpool – much to the delight of the supporters watching at home.
The absentees for Southampton ahead of kick-off were substantial as Jannik Vestergaard, a member ‘The Football Fan’s View’s’ team of the season so far, had been sidelined due to a persistent knee injury picked up on international duty, Oriol Romeu developed a calf injury in training, Che Adams ruled out due to concussion and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy had tested positive for COVID-19 in midweek.
Liverpool was not without injury woes, although most of which they have been dealing with for the best part of the season so far, and for this game, Klopp decided to rotate by unusually placing captain Jordan Henderson at centre-back to fill-in alongside Fabinho – both natural midfield players playing makeshift defenders.
However, it would not be the makeshift members of the backline that would be caught out early. Trent Alexander-Arnold was the player tasked with dealing with prolific scorer and former Liverpool striker Danny Ings from a dead-ball situation as James Ward-Prowse loaded a ball into the box for the English striker, the full-back failed to connect with the pass to clear.
From then on, nothing short of an absolutely outrageous finish from Ings took place – as on his weaker left foot he looped the ball, at full-stretch, over Alisson and into the inside-right netting of the goal to put the Saints ahead after just 2 minutes of play. Despite the obvious mistake from Alexander-Arnold, this goal will undoubtedly be a contender for goal of the month.
Many words can be used to describe the performance from Liverpool for all of the first half, none of them are particularly good.
Instead one must commend Ralph Hasenhüttl and his team who played Klopp at his own game as Southampton pressed high and created a few chances. The biggest chance falling to 21-year-old Nathan Tella, who came off the bench after an injury to Moussa Djenepo.
Ryan Bertrand lofted a ball up to Ings who rose higher than Henderson but chose to nod the ball onto Tella who outfoxed Fabinho, taking the ball onto the inside and with another touch to set himself the youngster had just the keeper to beat but could only connect with the advertising hoardings on the perimeter of the pitchside.
Now, onto the one “chance” Liverpool had in the half:
45th minute, Sadio Mané crossed the ball into the box for Mohammed Salah to head over the bar.
Half time: Southampton 1-0 Liverpool
Against West Bromwich Albion, Jürgen Klopp’s team struggled to break down an entire team whilst creating some chances that maybe should have been put away.
Then when they took on Newcastle United, Karl Darlow’s world-class goalkeeping prevented Liverpool from scoring in some massive chances in the game – though one thought that even if they were to continue playing for another hour, they would still not register on the score sheet.
Southampton, for much of the second half, defended immaculately – not just relying on the backline but the entire team pulling their weight to stop Liverpool from creating chances. The chances that did fall to the visitors were dealt with valiantly, such as the shot from Mané after a loose ball from Bednarek that was blocked through a sliding interception from Jack Stephens.
In the 59th minute, it appeared as if some good pressure may pay off for Liverpool as Mané went down in the box after stepping over the ball and taking it past Walker-Peters and going down under what appeared like a challenge from the full-back. Andre Marriner and the VAR official did not see a worthwhile penalty claim.
The only true shot on target the Reds had to test Southampton’s goalkeeper, Fraser Forster, came from an unremarkable shot from Mané inside the box on his weaker left foot after drifting into the box on the left side of the goal but with little power or direction on the ball, it was simple enough for the man standing in for McCarthy.
All of Liverpool’s efforts to grab a leveller allowed them to be caught out in the 84th minute after pushing too far upfield. Valery had Fabinho still to beat but Alisson, bizarrely, raced out of goal for the substitute to nutmeg the stranded keeper outside his own penalty area.
If only a bit more power was on the ball or conditions favoured a faster roll, Southampton would have been home and hosed before the final whistle.
In truth though this was one of the worst performances from the league champions this season. Now 7pts dropped in their last three matches and with Manchester United and Manchester City with enough games in hand to knock the Merseyside team off of the top spot, missed opportunities and poor chance creation has made the festive period less than merry for Kopites.
The performance from the Saints was brilliant. To a man, they outplayed Liverpool and now the away record for the visitors at only two wins of a possible nine this season. The narrative is already writing itself; if Klopp’s men are to not retain the title their away form will have played its part.
Aston Villa away from home is up next for them in the FA Cup and no doubt the 7-2 scoreline in October will be playing on the minds of the players if not the supporters. If any semblance of a fightback to prove that Liverpool is still worthy and willing to contest honours this year, Villa Park is the place to make that point.
Full time: Southampton 1-0 Liverpool
Southampton: Forster (6), Walker-Peters (8), Stephens (8), Bednarek (8), Bertrand (7), Ward-Prowse (7), Diallo (6), Armstrong (7), Djenepo (6), Ings (8), Walcott (7).
Subs: Tella (7), N’Lundulu (6), Valery (7).
Liverpool: Alisson (6), Alexander-Arnold (4), Fabinho (6), Henderson (6), Robertson (5), Wijnaldum (5), Thiago (5), Oxlade-Chamberlain (5), Salah (4), Firmino (5), Mané (6).
Subs: Shaqiri (5), Milner (5).
Man of the Match: Kyle Walker-Peters