Five days after the 2-2 home draw with Brighton and Hove Albion, Southampton traveled to Anfield to take on a high flying Liverpool side. Knowing that Liverpool have won all six of the games that they have played this season (in all competitions) many had low expectations for this match up.
Mark Hughes made several changes to the team he fielded on Monday night, starting firstly with the formation. We changed to a 4-5-1 instead of, what seems to be Hughes’ preferable, 4-4-2. Due to this change it also inevitably changed personnel. Mohamed Elyounoussi and Danny Ings were replaced by Oriol Romeu and Matt Targett, both of whom made up the midfield five. Danny Ings was unfortunately ineligible to play against his parent club as he is currently on loan from Liverpool which left Shane Long alone up top to spearhead the attack.
The Saints started the game fairly brightly and arguably had the better of the game for the first 21 minutes. The only drawback being despite this dominance, they found themselves 2-0 down with no thanks to two defensive errors.
Liverpool opened the scoring in the tenth minute when summer signing Xherdan Shaqiri, cut inside of Cedric Soares into the left hand side of the box and took a shot at goal. Unfortunately for the Saints, this shot ricocheted off of Shane Long before hitting Wesley Hoedt and dribbling across the goal line. In real time it did all happen quickly but you have to feel that Hoedt has to deal with that ball and clear it away out of the danger zone. The goal was not necessarily 100% his fault but he most certainly could have been a key player to avoid the goal from occurring.
In the 20th minute Cedric made a fantastic goal saving tackle to deny Mo Salah from scoring his third goal of the season. Despite this heroic effort however, it was then in the 21st minute, from the resulting corner, that Liverpool doubled their lead courtesy of Joel Matip’s free header from ten yards. Yes, that is not a typo, a free header from ten yards. The less said about this the better. Trent Alexander-Arnold took an out-swinging corner from the right which evaded Southampton’s zonal marking in the box and was met by the head of Matip. Being the closest player to Matip, Vestergaard made his best effort to come out and meet the ball in the air but it was too far away from him and in a split second it was flying past McCarthy into the top left corner of the goal. The most disappointing aspect of this goal is if you watch it over, take a look at every Southampton player ‘defending’ the corner. The only player to even move from his zonal position was Vestergaard and our entire starting eleven were in the box. So in short, 9 outfield statues stood and watched Liverpool add to their tally. This will definitely have to be addressed by the team to avoid conceding cheap goals from set pieces in the future.
From two nil down early in the game the Saints did not drop their heads and did carry on bringing the game to Liverpool. They had short spells of possession and attempted to create chances but the Liverpool back line seemed to deal with everything thrown at them all too easily.
On the stroke of half-time the scoring was complete when Shaqiri struck a free kick from around 27 yards which beat McCarthy and cannoned off the underside of the crossbar. The ball dropped down and who reacted quickest to tap in from a yard? Mo Salah. 3-0.
In all honesty the second half was not all that eventful. Liverpool created some chances which were either cleared before they developed into anything major or they were dealt with by McCarthy’s fist. At the other end of the pitch, Southampton were still trying to produce opportunities but did not penetrate the Liverpool defense with any real purpose. Charlie Austin replaced Shane Long in the 79th minute and actually had Southampton’s first and only shot on target which came in the 91st minute.
Overall, a 3-0 away loss to a thriving Liverpool side was by no way disgraceful. In reality the first two goals were defensive errors and then the 3rd was simply a piece of individual brilliance which was matched by a player reacting faster than anyone in a yellow shirt.
Liverpool always line up with a 4-3-3 and look to dominate the midfield with 3 players who are all exceptional on the ball. The tactics employed to match this were probably a good choice from Mark Hughes considering our personnel in comparison to theirs. The only downside to this was that it left the prolific Shane Long up front alone and isolated for long periods of the game. Again in terms of striking options, we had no Danny Ings and Gabbiadini was injured which left us with a choice of Austin or Long. Despite his lack of goals, Long does run the channels better which would have given us a better outlet should we have countered at speed. Unfortunately for us, this rarely happened but I’m siding with Hughes’ tactics on this one and on another day we could have possibly taken something from the game.
The biggest disappointment from the ninety minutes would be the lack of creativity from the away team. We showed that we can retain possession well yet when we progressed into the final third of the pitch seemed to quickly run out of ideas upon where to move the ball. Having our first shot on goal in the last minute of the game is far from acceptable.
One positive to take from the game would be that aside Jannik Vestergaard, the starting eleven was made up of the same players whom we had available to us last season. The same players, yet we played much better football than we did last year so we are definitely improving under Mark Hughes. Good teams play poorly and win. Unfortunately for us, we came up against a top side today who, although they were far from their best, sent us home with empty pockets.
Next Saturday we travel to Molineux to face one of the Premier League new boys in Wolverhampton Wanderers. Realistically a more winnable fixture where we can hopefully pick up some points on the road.