By Arun Nair at Anfield – @Nair_39
Early season leaders Liverpool suffered their first loss of the new campaign as Dejan Lovren’s header condemned the Reds to a 1-0 defeat at home to Southampton. Brendan Rodgers’ side, without the services of the injured Philippe Coutinho, struggled in his absence, and ultimately fell to defeat against an impressive Saints outfit.
Mauricio Pochettino’s Southampton had been the last side to beat Liverpool, in a 3-1 home win back in March, and his side repeated the feat with relative ease, serving as an unwelcome reality check for the Reds after a promising, and expectancy-raising, beginning to the 2013-14 season.
However, Liverpool started the game on the front foot. Jordan Henderson curled a shot straight at Saints keeper Artur Boruc, before the Pole sprung to his right to push Steven Gerrard’s goalbound free-kick around the post.
The home side’s early dominance was short lived, as Southampton, as manager Pochettino stressed beforehand, set about obstructing the supply lines to the Liverpool forwards, and in particular the in-form Daniel Sturridge. Starved of possession, the striker was a peripheral figure, although he could have had a penalty when felled by Lovren’s clumsy challenge, while attempts to feed him were thwarted by the midfield axis of Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama, aided by the impressive Adam Lallana. The Reds struggled to find any sort of rhythm or intensity, as they were pressured into conceding possession on countless occasions.
Southampton, for all their pressing, were also proving a threat on the counter. Martin Skrtel, one of four centre backs making up the Reds rearguard due to injuries, intervened to deny Rickie Lambert, while Pablo ‘Dani’ Osvaldo fired wide.
Victor Moses, making his Anfield debut, belatedly came to life on the left hand side, a burst of pace taking him into the Saints area, only for Boruc to palm away his prodded effort.
Rodgers replaced the anonymous Iago Aspas with Raheem Sterling at half time, but the winger could not inspire his side as they continued to look disjointed and feeble in possession.
The away side were growing in confidence as the Reds’ frustration continued, and after Lallana forced Simon Mignolet into a save, Liverpool needlessly conceded a corner, from which Lovren lost his marker, Daniel Agger, and headed past Mignolet, with Gerrard on the line unable to prevent the ball from finding the net.
Gerrard saw another free-kick well saved by Boruc, while at the other end Mignolet was forced into a brilliant triple save to first deny the marauding Luke Shaw twice, before recovering to stop Steven Davis from converting the rebound.
As the clock ticked down, Liverpool continued to be devoid of the invention or guile to unlock a resolute Southampton defence, with Coutinho’s absence alarmingly obvious. Countless passes went astray, with Southampton’s meticulous pressurising game the cause.
Sturridge curled a shot high and wide, while substitute Luis Alberto had a strike blocked, before Sterling had the only clear cut chance to equalise after being sent through on goal, but his poor touch meant that the chance went begging, and the away side held out with relative comfort to earn all three points.
Liverpool will rightly be concerned after a lacklustre display, but with Luis Suarez returning from his ban, Reds fans will hope that those concerns will be eased, starting with Wednesdays’ trip to face Manchester United at Old Trafford.