LET me make this absolutely, 100 per cent, crystal clear: Southampton deserved to win last night.
They deserved to win at Anfield, they deserved to win at St. Mary’s and they definitely deserved to make it through to the final over the course of two legs.
That doesn’t mean it’s not true to say that the referee was abysmal. It’s also fair to say that decisions from officials have been generally poor for a while now. Frustratingly, I can’t think of a decision that’s gone our way because of refereeing mistake for some time now.
Jock Stein once said that if you’re good enough then the referee doesn’t matter. That’s absolutely true and Liverpool haven’t been good enough recently. Some may cite ‘Emre Can not being good enough’, ‘Daniel Sturridge missed a sitter’ or ‘you can’t blame the referee’. Here’s the thing, though. The referee is literally on the pitch for no reason other than to apply the rules of the game. His assistants don’t have to do anything other than watch the game and help him out.
Despite what some referees might think, it’s not about them. They’re not there to primp and preen and referee circumstance. They’re there to make sure that the game is on a level playing field. That’s how smaller teams can beat bigger ones. It’s how you can play poorly and still get something from the game.
There’s no question that we’re in a slump, now. It’s not just the results that are problematic but the performances. How different would things be if we’d left Old Trafford with three points, though? In the buildup to their goal their player was a few feet offside, stood on the opposite side of a line cut into the pitch that couldn’t have made it much more blatant.
For anyone who thinks Valencia wasn't clearly offside…look at the line on the pitch. Lovren is one side, he's the other. pic.twitter.com/R3JoicULpr
— Olé (@Ole_LFC) January 15, 2017
Last night Martin Atkinson missed a handball from Shane Long in the box that was pretty blatant. He gave a goal-kick when their defender booted the ball into the back of The Kop. There was also a penalty shout towards the end of the game when Divock Origi went down under a challenge. Personally, I thought there was contact and that it was a penalty, others don’t agree. Either way, that’s two obvious decisions and one debatable one that Atkinson got wrong.
Again, none of that excuses how poor we played over both legs, nor does it make up for how badly we’ve been lately. Yet the go-to line for people is that these decisions equal themselves out over the course of the season. Will we be up against our fiercest rivals at their home ground, losing 1-0 when an assistant referee fails to notice one of our players about five-foot offside before the end of the season? It seems unlikely. It’s unlikely that a referee will fail to give our opponents two penalties in a cup semi-final, either.
The notion of swings and roundabouts for refereeing decisions is an absolute nonsense. It’s just not how the game works. There was one big decision that the referee got right today and that was the moment the ball seemed to cross the line but didn’t. No coincidence that that decision wasn’t his to make thanks to the introduction of goal-line technology.
Isn’t it funny that technology has not only been introduced seamlessly to the game but has also helped referees out? Why are the Football Association/FIFA/UEFA so reluctant to introduce other forms of technology? Those sitting at home get to watch an incident over and over again from several different angles before players have even finished crowding around the referee. It really wouldn’t be that difficult for the fourth official to watch something back and make the correct decision. Still debatable? Go with the referee’s original decision like in cricket.
Referees aren’t perfect and they get a lot of blatantly obvious decisions wrong, but they’re also human. The game moves faster than it ever has before so why not help them out? By not doing so we make them look even more stupid or, worse, dodgy. The technology’s there so it’s time to use it.
Sometimes you’ve got to say ‘well done’. As poor as Liverpool were over the two legs, arguably only playing well for one half of the four, Southampton deserve a huge amount of credit for how well they played against us. We’ve faced them four times this season and they’ve stopped us from scoring on three occasions. That’s incredibly impressive against this free-scoring Liverpool side.
Our January isn’t going very well at all, yet the ‘first team’ have still scored in every game apart from against Saints. It’s less than a month since we scored three at Middlesbrough, four against Stoke and one against Manchester City. We’ve been scoring goals, is my point. Claude Puel has got the measure of Jürgen Klopp and is evidently also not intimidated about playing Liverpool when you consider he’s not lost in five games against us (two with Lyon in 2009).
I was expecting to see a response from Liverpool last night but it didn’t happen. That’s, in part, due to mistakes from Klopp in his starting line-up (Can is stinking the place out at the moment and shouldn’t be on the pitch, in my opinion), in his formation (by pushing Roberto Firmino out wide we’re losing what he offers through the middle in order to accommodate a Sturridge who is woefully out of form) and in his substitutions (they came too late). Yet, you also have to say that Southampton got their tactics right and were superb at executing them.
This isn’t necessarily the time to be trying to look for positives, but Loris Karius has proved over two legs that we have not bought a dud. Had Southampton beaten us by four or five over the course of the two legs we couldn’t have had a massive complaint. It was entirely down to the German shot-stopper that they didn’t.
Simon Mignolet has been in good form in the league games and deserved to reclaim his starting berth. Perhaps Klopp made a bad decision dropping him for Karius in the first place, forcing the younger man to prove he was amazing before he’d even had a chance to unpack his boxes. When he made a couple of bad mistakes some supporters decided to write him off and suggest that we should bin him and buy a new ‘keeper.
The Belgian has been better of late but he’s still got a few mad moments in him (rolling the ball out to a defender under pressure in the last minute at Old Trafford, anyone?) and he’s not good enough long-term if Liverpool are to challenge for titles on a regular basis. Karius may well turn out to be no better than Mignolet in the grand scheme of things. He may not be enough of an upgrade on him to make it worthwhile.
What we’ve learnt from 180 minutes against a quickly counter-attacking Southampton team, however, is that he isn’t a complete waste of time. There’s a decent shot-stopper in there who is still young. That matches with what people who know the Bundesliga said about him before he turned up at Anfield in the summer. There’s very little to be feeling good about for Liverpool just at the moment, but that may well be the one thing we can cling on to.