In a week of upsets that saw Spurs draw against West Ham and United lose to
travelled to St Mary’s knowing that a victory would see them move to within
just two points of fourth. Although the team didn’t exactly put in a vintage
performance, they came away with the three points they needed – Liverpool now
face Manchester City next week with a little less pressure on them, and with
the chase for fourth place well and truly on.
A fair few eyebrows were raised when the team news was released – Sakho missed out through injury meaning Lovren started on his return to his former club,
was rested and Sturridge started from the bench as part of the cautious
approach to his return. The wisdom of starting Coutinho again was also
questioned by many; this questioning didn’t last long! After just three minutes
he gave Liverpool the lead, curling the ball
perfectly into the top corner off the underside of the bar from 25 yards out.
It was a contender for goal of the season – the extra shooting practice he’s
been doing is clearly paying off, and he really does seem to be becoming the
real deal. That said, the lead wasn’t deserved by any means; Southampton
had shown their attacking intent right from the outset, and had a good case for
a penalty after just 20 seconds.
The theme of poor refereeing decisions influencing proceedings continued throughout the match. Not long after Liverpool had brilliantly taken the lead,
Southampton had a
second, better penalty appeal turned down. Joe Allen lunged in to try and
dispossess Djuricic, but missed the ball and went crashing into the new Saints
midfielder. Kevin Friend, however, waved the strong appeals away. The injustice
was partially righted midway through the half – Jose Fonte sent Raheem Sterling
crashing to the floor with a clearly reckless challenge. Admittedly he made
contact with the ball first, but to call the challenge controlled would be a
Friend’s reluctance to penalise blatant fouls did have one positive effect: the game was certainly free-flowing, with the play being end-to-end at times. While this was trying on the nerves, it did make for a good spectacle.
Liverpool clearly missed
Sakho; the defence, who have been extremely solid of late, were an absolute
shambles for much of the first half. Simon Mignolet, who has gone from
out-of-favour to key asset in the space of a couple of months, made a few vital
stops to keep the lead intact. At the other end, Matt Targett was being
absolutely tormented by Jordon Ibe. However, the other attacking players were
posing less of a threat: Sterling
had a very quiet half, Lallana’s sole job seemed to be to shuttle the ball five
yards to Ibe, and other than the wonder-goal Coutinho’s impact was very limited.
In truth, Liverpool were lucky to reach the
break with a lead.
Things settled down a little after the break; the decision to bring
on for Markovic was a key factor in this. Clyne had looked dangerous throughout
the first period. This was unsurprising, as Markovic is a right winger and not
a left wing back. The whole Liverpool defence
seemed to pull themselves together – Skrtel in particular had an excellent game
after the shaky start, dominating in the air. Sturridge was introduced midway
through the half, and while he didn’t have the game of his life he did improve
the team as a whole. His coming on for Lallana seemed to liven up Sterling, whose movement
had been uncharacteristically poor prior to this change. It was Sterling who put the game to bed: he played a lovely ball
after Schneiderlin had given it away cheaply, then capitalised on a slip from
Targett to slot past Forster.
The win was far from vintage
In places, it was downright poor. However, the key thing is the victory – it
means we’re just two points off fourth, and only three away from Arsenal in
third. It was also a fifth consecutive away clean sheet, a feat not achieved by
the club since 1985. Hopefully we can keep up this excellent defensive form
when we host City this weekend: the win at St Mary’s takes a lot of the
pressure off what is bound to be a tough game, but a win would obviously be
excellent in our hunt for a Champions League spot.
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