It was in doubt until the final whistle, but Liverpool managed to eek out a 2-1 opening day win over Southampton. The Saints, who have had a tumultuous summer, played much better than many expected and rather than shrinking away after going down 1-0 in the first half, they made adjustments and took control of the game in the second. In the end it was a combination of Simon Mignolet's right hand and the crossbar that saved the Reds, who won despite a disappointing performance.
Brendan Rodgers started Lucas in the midfield, which would have been a surprise if it hadn't been leaked on twitter last night, something that should never happen. Lucas and Steven Gerrard were actually decent in the first half, but because they were positioned so deep the Liverpool attack wasn't as explosive as we're used to. And Victor Wanyama played the match of his life to take Coutinho, Liverpool's offensive focal point, out of the game.
But even though Liverpool struggled to create many chances early on, they were able to take the one real opportunity that they did construct. In the 23rd minute, Jordan Henderson won the ball in his own half, powered past a Southampton player, and played an inch perfect long ball with his left foot to Raheem Sterling who placed an accurate shot to the right of Fraser Forster and into the net. The 1-0 advantage held up until the break and there wasn't too much reason for concern at that point.
The Saints came out reinvigorated however, and after a few threatening moves an equalizer seemed imminent. Eleven minutes into the half, Tadic found Nathaniel Clyne with a back heel flick and the unmarked right back unleashed a screamer that Mignolet had no chance of stopping. Clyne should have never been allowed to run into the box uncovered, as Lucas should have followed his run and Skrtel should have reacted quicker to cover the space.
The Saints continued to push forward past Liverpool's struggling midfield, and for a time they looked the most likely winner. Even after Rodgers replaced Lucas with Joe Allen in an effort to improve the midfield play, Liverpool looked susceptible to disaster.
In the 76th minute Rickie Lambert was brought on in a move designed to reduce Wanyama's influence on the game. Coutinho had been unable to produce as a typical number 10 against his physical presence, so Lambert was inserted into that space to match his strength.
It would be simplistic to say that Liverpool's second change is the sole reason that they won, but I think the different look that they gave Southampton over the last 15 minutes played a major part in their turnaround (although it did nothing to shore up the defense which almost coughed up the game late on). Sure, Daniel Sturridge's winner was aided by two atrocious clearance attempts by Southampton, but Liverpool had little wide presence before Lambert came on. After his introduction they were able to bypass Wanyama and Southampton's strength - the center of the pitch- by working the ball out wide and then crossing it into the box.
After Sturridge gave the Reds a 2-1 advantage with his close range redirection of a Sterling header, it was a matter of holding on for dear life. Morgan Schneiderlin almost spoiled the day with this effort:
As I said above, we have to be extremely thankful for Mignolet and that damned crossbar that has played bad guy so often in the past, as well as Shane Long's weak header which wasn't worth a dime of the transfer fee Southampton spent on him.
So Liverpool escape, barely, and they can probably play with more freedom now at the Ethiad as they go in with three points rather than one. It's rarely straightforward with this team, but we'll take it. It's good to be back.
|Shots (On Target)||12(5)||12(6)|
-Allen or Can over Lucas next week please. I'm not a fan of the constant bashing that Lucas gets from some Liverpool fans because it can be unwarranted at times, but he's simply not the best option for the team right now and I think it would be hard to argue otherwise (although if you want to disagree, feel free to do so in the comments).
-Glen Johnson is awful.
-Manquillo grew stronger as the game progressed.
-Lovren was generally excellent, and so was Skrtel aside from his slow reaction on Clyne's goal. The problem was that they had no cover from the midfield.