I ALMOST feel it’s often forgotten by many that when Liverpool play there’s another team on the pitch, and by that I mean how that other team approaches the game.
Unless Liverpool are able to do something brilliant, such as Emre Can scoring a wonder goal at Watford you are relying on someone doing something wrong, such as Roberto Firmino being unmarked at the back post when he gave us a 1-0 lead at West Brom.
Those two games featured a goal in first half injury time, Liverpool created very little as an attacking entity while being relatively untroubled defensively, but Liverpool walked away with three points.
The reality of those games is that there was very little difference between them than what we saw on Sunday. The obvious issue was that Liverpool didn’t do that really important thing – they didn’t score. It was a repeat of something we’ve seen three times this season; Liverpool failed to break down a well organised Southampton side that saw 0-0 as a good result.
To go off on a tangent for a second, I thought that that was a very strange approach from Claude Puel. Southampton are safe from relegation, they’ve got four games remaining and they were four points off eighth-placed West Brom with two games in hand. They played for 0-0, but why? Losing wouldn’t have been a disaster, and winning would have been highly rewarding. I’m not saying this because I want them to play into our hands and have a go at us (although that would be nice) I just don’t really see what was that good about a 0-0 draw that they’d do everything in their power to nick one.
Their lone striker attempted nine passes and didn’t have a shot. At full-time their fans celebrated. What they were celebrating I’m not sure. Although if they replicate that this evening and take a point off Arsenal meaning four points from our remaining two games is enough for Champions League qualification then I’ll celebrate with them.
One area of concern and annoyance for me at the minute is that we don’t appear to be learning from things we do wrong, or fail to carry out correctly. We have played four games against Southampton this season, losing twice in the League Cup with a pair of 0-0 draws in the league meaning that we’ve been knocked out of a cup and dropped four points. Had we taken those four points and beaten them in the cup we’d have two games to pick up two points to secure Champions League football for next season, be in control of third, and we’d have had a good chance of winning a trophy.
They meet the definition of being a ‘bogey team’ and we could have learned from our previous games against Southampton. But we didn’t, did we? We went in with the same way of playing, the same style, and the same frustrating inability to open up one of the most organised sides in the league unfolded in front of our eyes again.
I found it interesting that Jürgen Klopp said the following “In all of our analysis that we do we don’t watch the games we played against Southampton, we watch the last three games they played.” OK, there’s validity in this in that two of the games that they played were against Manchester City and Chelsea, but I’d be really interested to know what you would learn from a game that Southampton play at home to Hull particularly if you aren’t watching any of the three games that they have played against us.
I should caveat this with the fact that I’ve never managed a football team outside of a computer game, but it seems a little odd. You don’t need to know much about football at all to know that Southampton will approach Hull at home very differently to Liverpool away, do you?
You may well spot something you feel you can exploit by watching a tape of Southampton v Hull, but if they approach the game differently how are you going to exploit this? Southampton only really need to watch a video of what they’ve done against us.
For example, anyone who decides that they want a 0-0 draw with us will be able to watch a tape and see Liverpool like to use the ball a lot down their left-hand side because their left-back is really a central midfielder and can play football like a central midfielder. They can also see that the end product and general technique of our right-back is lacking.
This means that they can pack our left-hand side, leave Nathaniel Clyne free and trap us into either playing football in a crowded area or funnelling the ball to someone who isn’t good enough to consistently affect play in the final third – whether that is because he’s not good enough (my opinion), or because he isn’t getting enough support (Gary Neville’s opinion on Monday Night Football).
It’s something we are falling for far too much. People are coming here with that plan that stifles us. Now, it’s obviously possible to play different full-backs but if you saw Alberto Moreno and Clyne as the full-backs you’d expect something different. So why not just do something crazy and throw them off by playing Clyne at left-back and James Milner at right-back?
You can see a problem that they have created for us and react to it, like a game of chess. Make it their move to have a think about something. You watch what we do against Southampton, you see the issue and then you can then look at working on stopping it from being an issue.
Southampton are fantastically well organised and have underachieved this season, but there are ways around them. Chelsea and City combined for seven goals in those games that were watched, in our three previous games we didn’t score one. Even after seeing what they did we couldn’t get round them, so what exactly were we doing on Sunday?
It brings to mind the Albert Einstein quote about insanity and doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Same set-up, different players, but predominantly the same approach. One area we can improve going forward is to move away from being married to one set-up. I’m not talking about us going mad and playing three at the back like we did at Stoke, but when players go missing for whatever reason we try and make the same jigsaw with different shaped pieces.
Sadio Mane can’t be replaced by Firmino, Divock Origi can’t replace Firmino, Adam Lallana can’t replace Philippe Coutinho, Can can’t replace Lallana, so on and so forth. So do different things, maybe we should have used Moreno more, not because he’s brilliant, because he’s different. Have a look at how City use Jesus Navas as a full-back and maybe be less concerned about needing a right-back or a left-back who defends when the other team’s attacker touches the ball roughly every five minutes.
We need more tactical flexibility. To be more daring. We definitely have it within us, but we’re becoming predictable. And when the opposition can predict what you’re going to do they will find it easier to stop you.
We all laugh at Pep Guardiola and what looks like him picking a side using a tombola, but how do you prepare for this? You don’t know what formation City are playing until the game has started. West Ham know what we’ll do on Sunday now and are probably two days into working on a way of combating it.
I want variation and options from Liverpool on a far more regular basis. If we don’t do this, we’re going to have more days like Sunday, because the technical ability required to do what Southampton did isn’t great.