“Not a good day at the office.”
That saying may be a cliché, but it is definitely true to describe Liverpool’s 1-0 shock home defeat to Southampton. That may also be kind as Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the season came to a shattering end in an abysmal performance. Now there are lessons that must be learned if Brendan Rodgers is to prevent a decent enough start from unravelling.
In this season, it is very concerning about how Liverpool haven’t turned up for the second half of games. The goals they’ve scored that have lofted them up to second in the table have all been scored in the first half. Liverpool were lucky that these second half no-shows didn’t come back to haunt them in the first three games, all 1-0 wins, at home to Stoke & Manchester United, and away at Aston Villa. Unfortunately, the trend was similar against Swansea City on Monday & Southampton now, and Liverpool have picked up one point from 6 available, in the 2-2 draw at Swansea where they led 2-1 at half time on Monday.
Another mistake was the selection of four centre backs in the four defensive positions, with Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho at right back & left back respectively; these are not their natural positions. Some of those were enforced, particularly with the unfortunate injury to Glen Johnson (the impact on both Liverpool and England of Johnson’s injury is clear). However, playing four centre backs across the defence was still a gamble by Rodgers. The gamble failed thanks to the goal that separated the match against Southampton came from a corner kick converted by Dejan Lovren, four minutes prior to Daniel Agger’s removal through injury. With four central defenders on the pitch, it is criminal to concede goals like that. It also failed because Agger came off for Jose Enrique, normally Liverpool’s first choice left-back.
Creativity was also missing from the Southampton with Philippe Coutinho injured. Coutinho has been a revelation since he joined for a mere £8.5 million in January from Inter Milan. He sadly got a shoulder injury in a poor challenge on Monday from Ashley Williams (one player who I do not want at Liverpool, incidentally) which leaves him sidelined till the end of October. Liverpool look a much better side with Coutinho in it, and there is a massive hole that must be filled. The problem for Rodgers is who is going to solve it? Suso, the nearest Liverpool have to Coutinho, is on loan at Almeria for the season, and Liverpool did not bring in any attacking midfielders in the summer, although that can’t be attributed to lack of effort.
Unfortunately, they didn’t bring in a central midfielder that plays like Victor Wanyama, who ironically plays for Southampton. That was one of the areas that needed strengthening massively in the summer, I thought. Unfortunately, that was also ignored, and Liverpool lost the key midfield battles against the Saints. I must give credit to Mauricio Pochettino, who once again tactically out-thought Rodgers. Until this weekend, Southampton were the last team to beat Liverpool, in March. Coincidence?
Liverpool don’t have a Plan B option up front either. The closest Liverpool have recently had was Andy Carroll, who joined West Ham in the summer, rightly or wrongly.Someone like Carroll could have come on and at least tried to make life difficult for Southampton’s defenders. One thing that will be of concern to Liverpool in the coming days is the comfort in how Southampton held onto their 1-0 lead.
They did not just held on to their lead, they could’ve extended it. Simon Mignolet is the man Liverpool have to thank for keeping the score at 1-0. Mignolet has made an excellent start to life at Liverpool, and it is his saves that have protected points for Liverpool.
If you want something else to cheer you up after a bad day, it’s that Luis Suarez will be back on Wednesday for the Capital One Cup tie against Manchester United, at Old Trafford. The Uruguayan has been absent since April through suspension, and is set to be welcomed back with open arms from the management and large sections of the support. That’s not something I thought I would have said in the summer when he was trying to engineer a move away from Liverpool. Suarez was one of Liverpool’s star players last season (until THAT incident against Chelsea), with 30 goals, and will be raring to go, starting against Liverpool’s fiercest rivals.
The next game is the most crucial. Pochettino said post-match that he will not be getting too carried away after his side’s famous win at Anfield. Liverpool’s management and players have been guilty of getting too carried away in the past. In December last year, Rodgers said he was targeting a top two finish. The game after that bold statement, Liverpool suffered a humiliating 3-1 loss at home to Aston Villa. Even this week, the word ‘title’ was being mentioned (albeit not from Rodgers); new signings Victor Moses and Iago Aspas have mentioned that they believe Liverpool are title contenders. It’s good that they are aiming for the stars, some might say, but some might also say that they’re getting ahead of themselves, and that mentality needs to end or Liverpool will end up with egg on their faces through occasions like they experienced against Southampton.
Nonetheless, despite this defeat, it has been a very impressive start by Liverpool this season. They’ve got 10 points out of 15 available, which I would have happily taken at the start of the season. At this stage last season, Liverpool had a mere 2 points out of 15 available, so there’s improvement since Rodgers came into Liverpool last season. I believe in what Rodgers is trying to do, and he needs time at Liverpool, but it is too premature to consider Liverpool title challengers at the moment – maybe next year, there might be more emphasis on a title challenge. Last season was about putting the blocks into place for a top four (and domestic cup) challenging season, this season was about trying to get into the top four – and trying to win a cup or two along the way.
That’s the realistic aims of Liverpool this season, for a lot of Liverpool supporters. It’s not impossible to think that Liverpool can return to the Champions League, but these kinds of days need to be far less frequent. However, I didn’t expect Liverpool to go this season without a loss, but I didn’t expect a performance as abysmal as this to end it. I am also not saying that this is a crisis at Liverpool: they’ve lost one game, which doesn’t call for a knee jerk reaction. One defeat does not equate to a crisis, but there is plenty of food for thought for Brendan Rodgers in his project at Liverpool, which is what I’m trying to get across.
Sometimes it is said that you learn more in defeat than in victory. Hopefully that last statement is true regarding Liverpool…