Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool took on one of his least favoured opponents away from home today. The Reds travelled to St. Mary’s to take on the Saints, who are one of only three teams to have beaten Klopp’s Liverpool thrice in England. As expected, it was a difficult outing for the Reds. It was a game where a brilliant Firmino goal was bookended by two goals from two players scoring against their former employers.
For Southampton, it was their first home game of the season and they have traditionally been poor in this fixture. But today they began the game in a sprightly fashion, closing down Liverpool time and again in the first half and being much more penetrative than the Reds in attack. For a large part of the first half, Liverpool led only in terms of ball possession but clearly, their hosts were the team in the ascendancy. But the Reds did not manage their second-highest Premier League points tally last season by throwing in the towel. They hung on, which eventually paid off when in the first-half injury time, Sadio Mane cut in from the left of Saints’ box before finding space to unleash a powerful shot into the far top corner of the goal.
In the second half, whether Liverpool were energised by the goal or by a dressing room speech from Klopp, but for much of the second half they played like the Liverpool of last season and not the tired, unfocused lot of the first half. Between the start of the second half and the 81st minute, Liverpool took 10 shots, four of which were on target. One of those on target was Roberto Firmino in the 71st minute. Sadio Mane cut back to him at the left edge of the Southampton box, following which the Brazilian took a few touches to find space to shoot from just outside the box from behind the penalty spot. The low shot to the right of Gunn never looked like being saved.
That should have been the end of story for the match. But it is never so simple with Liverpool. Danny Ings had been substituted in 7 minutes prior to Firmino’s goal. He made the most of this opportunity of playing against his former team by scoring from a gift from Adrian. The Spaniard, who was not 100% fit, tried to channel Alisson by committing a gaffe similar to what the Brazilian committed a couple of times early last season. Only, Alisson did not concede a goal from such errors, while Adrian immediately conceded one. He tried giving eyes to the incoming Ings and tried to hit a pass to Fabinho but, instead hit it straight to Ings who gleefully put the ball in the net. For the eleven minutes after that goal, Liverpool looked extremely shaky, despite the introduction of their skipper. Somehow, the Saints managed to mishit both their chances in this period, allowing Liverpool to escape narrowly.
At the end of the match, the key stats seemed to favour Liverpool. They had more shots, more shots on target, more pass completions and more pass completions in the attacking third.
But these were painted positive by the first 36 minutes of the second half, during which they took 10 shots, 4 on target, 3 Big Chances, 45% of their total completed passes, and more than 60% of their attacking third pass completions.
These days rarely does an opponent beat Liverpool in terms of xG. But, today was one of those rare days. Despite both Southampton and Liverpool managing three big chances each, the xG for Saints was 1.89, while that for Liverpool was 1.51. For the Reds, Mane was the primary chance creator with his 5 key passes (0.86 xA), while James Milner (4) and Salah (3) were he most prolific shooters but only for a combined xG of 0.53.
For Southampton, Ward-Prowse was the primary chance creator (0.47 xA), while Che Adams was the primary threat, if not the most prolific shooter (0.31 xG in 70 minutes). Ings took the maximum shots (4), but one of them – the Adrian gifted goal – was enough to shoot his xG to 0.77. One notable area, where the Saints were clearly ahead of the Reds was in Cross accuracy. Liverpool managed 24 crosses, but only 2 of them found their mark, while Southampton crossed 19 times in total, including 5 accurate ones.
Defensively, Liverpool have not looked this shaky since the combination of van Djik and Alisson came together last season. However, in the absence of his Brazilian mate, VVD had a somewhat off-colour game (only 60% aerials won), compared to his lofty standards. However, his defence partner Joel Matip was on hand to cover a bit. Not only did he win more aerial duels (80%), but he was also on hand to clear Saints’ attacks as soon as possible. He made 10 clearances, in addition to two interceptions and one block. These were not enough though, as Liverpool conceded 9 shots from inside the box, most of them from the right flank – where Robertson and VVD would be responsible.
For the Saints, Jan Bednarek had the maximum CBI, with 6 clearances and 3 interceptions. Vestergaard also made it tough for Liverpool with his 7 clearances and 2 interceptions. Southampton also limited Liverpool to only 8 shots from inside the box but more than the defence, it was Liverpool’s laxity in the attack, especially in the first half, that was responsible for this.
Liverpool managed to keep their winning start going after winning two from two. They will now face their first top-six opponent in game week 3 when they host Arsenal at Anfield next Saturday. Jurgen Klopp will need to inspire his team to perform much better than today if he wants the winning run to continue
For Southampton, it was the case of a good performance that went unrewarded. They will consider themselves unlucky today. However, for all their midfield alacrity and defensive sturdiness, they were primarily undone by their attack. Saints’ attackers will need to be more clinical than today if they are to stop this losing start to the Premier League campaign and start winning.