Neil Atkinson’s post-match review for The Anfield Wrap after Liverpool 3 Southampton 0 in the 2023-2024 FA Cup fifth round…


SORRY this is late.

Everything just took longer than expected, then I had a good gossip with Jay McKenna on the way home after getting soaked, and I wanted Josh to be able to get to bed so I said let’s just leave it until the morning.

Because, on the one hand, it is the fifth round of the FA Cup, home against a rotated Championship side, but on the other it is downright ridiculous what is going on and I need some time to think about it.

It has been an outrageous week, all told. This sort of thing simply doesn’t happen. Jayden Danns has had an outrageous week. Debut. Trophy. Brace. February 21st to February 28th. Forget Leap Day, this is Leap Week.

Regardless, let’s do this in order for this game:

Liverpool hang on for dear life for 15. Scrap out an even game for the next 20. Then they cruise away.

This is also against a heavily rotated Southampton side. I liked them an awful lot. The principles they have help them play through the lines in a way that had a lovely balance of risk versus reward. For 15, it is all reward bar the obvious and the only reason why is Caoimhin Kelleher.

It’s another brilliant performance. Earlier in the campaign it felt as though his ability to make crucial saves had deserted him, but now he has them in abundance. He is the most important Liverpool player on the night, the one without whom the rest of it doesn’t happen, can’t happen.

Southampton don’t get their reward and the game shifts phase. The barometers of the match are Joe Gomez and Bobby Clark. The more of both that are present in the game the better Liverpool become. They sweep and then they progress.

To be clear, the game isn’t taken away from Southampton but it is now at least a contest. Liverpool are as likely as they are and their best chances are on turnovers.

Liverpool start to move the ball well – Harvey Elliott and Cody Gakpo rotate well into midfield and keep it moving, and James McConnell is more able to look forward with Conor Bradley making the pitch big.

The goal, when it comes, is at the end of Liverpool repeatedly having the ball for long stretches. It looked a deflection in real time and wrong footed their goalkeeper, but really who cares because it is Lewis Koumas and he is only 40 minutes into playing for Liverpool.

This is part of what makes the whole thing ridiculous, outrageous; part of what makes you check what universe you are in. Koumas is the latest brought into the fold and here he is opening the scoring and blunting Southampton.

Southampton. I hope they come back up and that is the focus of their manager which we can see from tonight’s selection. They play with a brightness which is good to see on our turf.

But in the cold light of day, from that point, they don’t ever regain their foothold in quite the same way. Their final flourish is just after half time, but the issue with that is Liverpool have had half time. And Liverpool’s half times are currently absolutely flying.

Everyone takes steps another 10 yards forwards, finds the right space and plays. The most fascinating thing about the period till about 70 minutes is the learning that has been going on and the biggest learner is the man then wearing the armband.

Gomez becomes Liverpool’s holding midfielder. He is the latest to take to the position in a way you don’t expect. The third of the campaign.

Suddenly, Southampton can’t get out, Joe sweeps everything. He recycles, finds, switches and progresses. Their half is his and everyone is just playing in it. Should they get near getting out, they will find Ibou Konate and Jarell Quansah are suddenly playing ever so well.

The only negative is this “shoot” nonsense which needs to fuck off so deeply it is hard to put into words. I am all for people enjoying themselves, but this isn’t fucking ironic. This is winning, wanting, needing and we all need to make the right decision and encourage the right decision.

We are all in this together and it is the most fun in the world – ridiculous, outrageous – but it isn’t messing about.

Alexis Mac Allister comes on and the midfield punches up again. Clark goes left-hand side and is Curtis Jones-esque, that old man of the sea.

But suddenly, there is Jayden Danns. Danns is a labrador who can finish and pass, all bounding, loping stride, and exuberance, and commitment to every cause. He’s having the week of his life which is convenient as we are all having one of ours too and the manager is having one of his.

Somehow, Harvey Elliott is still running, and showing, and slipping, and then there is Danns – no longer a labrador but suddenly a cold-eyed cobra with a lovely dinked finish like Dalglish.

His build and ability to harry and harass, and find and then finish, reminds me of very early Harry Kane. There is a long, long way to go, but his trajectory has suddenly ratcheted right up and he shows the purest instinct for his second and the goal which seals it.

Trey Nyoni has come on by then, of course he has, Koumas long since exited, Elliott and Bradley still going, and we get some Kaide Gordon which is good to see too.

In a way, Gordon is the cautionary tale – he’s been around this season but lost so much time. Stefan Bajectic is also a cautionary tale. But positive tales are everywhere. Jones, Elliott, Quansah. God, there’s Gomez himself, on the cusp of 10 years with highs and lows, but Liverpool at heart and in his every word and deed.

For Gordon and Bajectic nothing is lost, nothing is over, just deferred. Now, for Danns and Clark, there is the prospect of European football on the horizon, of benches in run-ins, of, in Jayden’s case, being relentlessly Liverpudlian at Old Trafford in the FA Cup.

Because the greatest gift of the departure of this manager is all this potential and its silver thread of experience running through it.

It is outrageous and it is ridiculous, and it has been one hell of a week and everybody has played their part, and we play again in three days and then in seven days from now, and we need everybody.

Everybody. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen. But the sort of things which don’t happen are exactly what this manager is the very best at.

It is simultaneously true that we will miss him deeply and we have all this to look forward to.


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