Liverpool 0-1 Southampton: Five Things We Learnt

saints

Long settles it late on – bbc.co.uk

A strong defensive display helped Southampton to a 1-0 win at Anfield, completing a 2-0 aggregate victory over a one-dimensional Liverpool side. The Saints have reached Wembley – but what have we learnt from the game?

Encouraging clean sheet for Southampton

Jose Fonte has been a key figure behind Southampton’s rise while fellow centre-back Virgil Van Dijk is among the Premier League’s best in his position. With the former now at West Ham and the latter’s long-term future in doubt, this was a huge evening for Jack Stephens. The former Swindon loanee had only played at centre-back for the Saints once before and had barely experienced league football above the third tier, seemingly ill-prepared to face the best forwards around? Not a bit of it: Stephens was among the best players on the pitch, making some towering headers. Partner Maya Yoshida, who has also improved this term, defended intelligently, well-protected by the midfield trio. Southampton dropped deeper than they might have liked for a brief spell after James Ward-Prowse was withdrawn, but this was a unified display.

Redmond at his best

When a team has just 27% possession, they need a quick player to ensure they are productive with it. Dusan Tadic did not provide in that regard while strikers Jay Rodriguez and Shane Long had quiet halves, bar the latter’s late strike. That goal was set up by substitute Josh Sims, but every other good bit of football from Southampton came through Nathan Redmond. Well-supported by left-back Ryan Bertrand, the winger tore apart Trent Alexander-Arnold in the first half, setting up two good chances in the space of three minutes. He attacked from more central areas after the interval due to wider spaces and always posed a threat. At Anfield, Redmond added intelligence and good decision making to his game, the lack of which along with inconsistency, has hindered his career. Put in performances like that on a more regular basis and it won’t be long before Gareth Southgate is given a dilemma.

Liverpool’s issues at full-back

Many point to the lack of width in Liverpool’s attacking trio, yet the Reds tended to press narrowly for the first four months of the season and scored plenty of goals. The energetic Nathaniel Clyne often threatened to charge to the byline and drill in a cross. This would draw out opposing midfielders and thus create more space for other players. Because Alexander-Arnold lacked confidence in possession on Wednesday, nobody was forcing the issue on the right, Sadio Mane being another key loss in that regard. In every game they play against defensive opposition, Liverpool need at least one full-back to provide width, otherwise nobody else can shine. In the second half of the season, Jurgen Klopp may find a use for the much-maligned Alberto Moreno. The Spaniard may be better use at left-back in these types of games than the right-footed James Milner, whose deliveries from the left were atrocious.

Henderson too similar to Can

Jordan Henderson and Emre Can faced criticism but this blog would argue that the problem on Wednesday was not the level of their performances, but the similarity in the roles they carried out. Henderson was competitive out of possession while Can did some good covering work, but both lacked confidence to move forward with the ball or occupy a vacant wide area. The one time Henderson did that, he put a cross in for the second of Daniel Sturridge’s two clear cut chance while Can had a shot from range that Fraser Forster nearly spilled in, yet neither got forward enough.

Liverpool need runners from deep

The issues with Liverpool’s full-backs and midfielders are interlinked. Normally when breaking an opponent down, a team requires three established forwards and four players who make less frequent attacking runs from deeper positions . Liverpool had four established forwards – Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho – who all occupied the central attacking areas. None of the two midfielders and two full-backs took on the responsibility of creating unpredictability or opening up space by pushing forward from deep. Barring a spell of pressure midway through the second half, Southampton’s bullish rear-guard was never truly stretched.