IT’S a joyous time to be a Liverpool fan at the moment.
On the whole, right from our league position to the overall health of the football club in general, everything is alright.
It’s more than alright, in fact.
Jürgen Klopp and his team have set the standards very, very high indeed. We’ve become accustomed to watching the Reds stick four or fives past sides routinely this season. Above all, we know we’re very much in this title race.
No titles are won without the odd bump in the road, though. We’ve already had Burnley this season. The goalless draw against Jose Mourinho’s mob at Anfield was another source of frustration.
After another 0-0 draw, this time away versus a well-drilled Southampton side with Virgil van Dijk looking every inch the best centre-back in the league, post-match reactions were fraught with musings of dissatisfaction at dropped points.
This is something we’re not very good at as a fanbase in general. Accepting that sometimes, football doesn’t go your way. Just because we’re top of the league and flying high doesn’t entitle us to three points every week. The game just doesn’t work like that.
This will not be the last hiccup this season. We need to prepare ourselves for the fact that more points will, inevitably, be dropped, at some stage.
The signs were there that Southampton away could be a potential banana-skin fixture. Both Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino had flown halfway round the world on international duty with Brazil. The former, having clocked up a significant amount of minutes with his country, had been in hospital for a scan on a tight hamstring.
Adam Lallana, meanwhile, so integral to Liverpool’s success this season, was to miss the visit to his former club with a groin injury picked up during England’s friendly draw against Spain.
This was never going to be a simple task. And so it proved, especially during the first half where Liverpool looked disjointed and unable to find the usual verve and rhythm that has made them such an irresistible force this season.
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Southampton showed why they are an established top-half-of-the-table side, closing down the spaces well so as to limit the degree of influence Liverpool’s attacking players were able to exert.
Oriol Romeu, in particular, proved a hugely impressive and formidable presence, breaking up play with countless well-timed tackles and interceptions.
That said, however, Liverpool should have won. The chances were most definitely there to do so. Fraser Forster makes an excellent stop to deny Mane in the first half. Coutinho should do much better when sent through on goal by Firmino in the second half. Likewise, Emre Can rushed his shot, firing wide from a promising position under no real pressure. Joel Matip also came ever so close to getting on the end of a couple of set pieces.
Yet it will be Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne who feel they ought to have won this game for their team.
Firmino, usually so assured with his finishing inside the box, was picked out by a glorious pass from Coutinho. Nine times out of ten he sticks that in the back of the net, but on this occasion he chooses to go with the outside of his right boot and fires inches wide of the far post.
Clyne, not renowned for his goalscoring abilities, timed his leap to perfection at the back post but directed his header across goal and inches wide.
Perhaps both players were trying a little too hard to find the perfect finish. Either probably would have scored with any decent effort on target. It just wasn’t to be.
Liverpool can take great encouragement from the fact that they stayed patient throughout and kept probing, knowing full well that they had the quality to create opportunities. This was just a case of needing slightly sharper finishing. If any of those chances are converted, the game is won.
On another day, the referee sends van Dijk off for hauling Firmino down on the edge of the area when through on goal. Southampton barely had a sniff at the other end, failing to register a shot in target in 90 minutes with Loris Karius a virtual spectator once more.
"It's maybe the best team I've played against."#SaintsFC's Pierre-Emile Højbjerg hails a great point against #LFC:https://t.co/8w0XD4usBB
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) November 20, 2016
Matip and Dejan Lovren were imperious at the back, and it’s days like these when the defenders need to step up.
When our finishing is slightly off, it’s crucial to stay solid and give nothing silly away in defence. Keep a clean sheet and a point is the worst you get. Sometimes that’s just how it works. In many ways, this was so nearly the perfect away performance.
This was a game Liverpool deserved to win and there no need to treat a result like this as a blow to title credentials.
If anything, this performance should enhance belief. Liverpool were in total control and, by the end of the game, Southampton were penned back inside their own area with 10 men behind the ball.
That’s the level of respect teams have for Liverpool now. They know that to try and play us at our own game over 90 minutes is almost impossible.
Questions as to why Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi were not brought into the action earlier will inevitably be asked and the presence of a natural goalscorer on the pitch may have provided that cutting edge.
It’s easy to ponder such hypothetical scenarios with the benefit of hindsight, though. Klopp has immense trust in that front three and probably felt he didn’t want to disrupt the flow. He has a point, as they did create some clear-cut chances to win the game, which on any other day you would expect them to take.
Perhaps playing Coutinho didn’t quite pay off. The Brazilian did look predictably jaded at times, but then Klopp knows he has the ability to change the game with one moment of magic, as he ever so nearly did when picking out Firmino for the best chance of the game. Fine, fine margins.
Things don’t always go exactly to plan. This is football and this is life. Klopp was satisfied with the performance after the game — there’s no need to worry. What defines whether this can be considered a “decent point” is what we do next, how we respond.
Sunderland come to Anfield next weekend on the back of two consecutive wins. Liverpool need to send Moyes’s boys packing, empty handed.
A week of training to brush up, move on, and rediscover the groove. Those three points have to be taken. There’s a title to be won.
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Fazakerly! No room for any doubters. This is gonna be a great season so let’s just enjoy the ride.
Interesting to see how the genius that is Moyes sets them up next week. What’s the chance of seeing big Victor out on the right wing with Defoe ploughing a lone farrow up top?
Nice article. Exactly the right words needed to be said.
felt like a loss because the performance was so strong.
One game at a time.