Eight things I might have learned from watching Liverpool versus Southampton
There are only so many conclusions you can draw from the first game of the season. There are players still recovering from a long campaign, followed by a long World Cup. There are new players still getting used to their new surroundings. Established players wondering if they might be on their way out. New managers attempting new systems. Established managers worrying about how to maintain the momentum from the previous season. All that kind of stuff. Plus one game is hardly a statistically valid sample. Yet this doesn’t stop people, such as your intrepid correspondent here, making a few observations.
After watching yesterday’s 2-1 victory for Liverpool over Southampton I came to the following rather shaky conclusions.
- Southampton aren’t as bad as everyone thought they would be this season. Sure, their pre-season resembled a fire sale, with the majority of their best players leaving, along with their manager. But on yesterday’s evidence, these events shouldn’t be fatal for the club. They got an excellent price for Lallana, Shaw et al. There is probably a market-centric argument that every player has their price. It’s just that a lot of Southampton’s prices got met over the summer. Southampton have reinvested to a point, and have a pretty good recent record for recruiting players. They also have an excellent youth system to draw upon. Ronald Koeman is a solid managerial appointment. Southampton were unlucky not to get something from the game. Once the new manager and new players have bedded in, they should be fine.
- Liverpool can survive without Suarez. Of course they can. They might not be as good, but it needn’t be a disaster. They do need to be a slightly different side. This win was more about grinding out a result than relying on a moment of genius from a talisman. Raheem Sterling can frighten defences as well as anyone with his pace, but is also surprisingly strong on the ball. Daniel Sturridge scored 21 goals last season and looks like he can probably do that again. Liverpool can still score enough goals to win games, they now just need to concede few enough goals to ensure they don’t lose games.
- Dejan Lovren looked like the kind of player who will help deal with Liverpool’s problems at the back. It is easy to think that a good centre half is all about the powerful headed clearance and the last-ditch tackle. But Lovren showed it is more about anticipation – reading the game so that you are positioned to deal with any problems before they fully materialise. If you’re anticipating passages of play properly you’ll rarely have to make a last-ditch tackle. Hopefully he will be able to organise the personnel around him, rather than have to cover for them, in future games.
- Liverpool’s defensive problems aren’t just about their defenders. Southampton’s goal, and their other chances for that matter, were as much a result of the Liverpool midfield failing to track runs into the box, or failing to stop the ball into the box in the first place. Gerrard and Lucas as the two holding midfielders might work in future games, but I wasn’t convinced it was the best option yesterday.
- Southampton set themselves up brilliantly to stifle Coutinho. By having their lines of defence and midfield playing so closely they snuffed out any room for Coutinho to work his magic. It was smart, effective, and reasonably simple management from Koeman, but good to see nonetheless. Brendan Rodgers and Coutinho now have to work on how to counter that tactic in future, without just removing Coutinho.
- Rodgers showed again his ability to adapt when things aren’t working. The Coutinho Plan was dead in the water, the Two Holding Midfielders Plan wasn’t right either, but bringing Joe Allen on worked brilliantly. He was my man of the match. Southampton were starting to dominate, yet Allen in a deeper role was able to break up play, and more importantly keep hold of the ball and distribute it effectively. It was an unassuming cameo, but a vital one.
- Henderson’s tackle, quick glance and perfectly weighted through-ball for the first goal was sublime. It was a microcosm of all that a player in his position should be – strong enough to win a ball, quick-minded enough to spot an opportunity and skilled enough to deliver. He is turning into quite the player – he was certainly missed at the end of last season, and showed his value in making the goal for Sterling. Henderson’s development this year could be a big factor in how Liverpool progress.
- It was one of those odd games where the losing side could be optimistic about future fixtures, while the winning side had more concerns. Yet looking at all the other results this weekend, no team has really started strongly, all the top sides have had scares, and we could be on course for another competitive Premier League season. I hope so, anyway.