RAWK Round Table: Southampton 0-3 Liverpool

Posted by E2K on March 1, 2014, 09:21:42 PM

What a result. I hope it puts paid to any lingering idea that Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool is anything like Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United. In a piece I wrote before Christmas about their famous 4-3 loss at Anfield in April 1996, I characterised that team like this:
Newcastle were, by then, a shadow of the team that had started the season so well. They were a free-falling aircraft, a boxer being held up by the ropes with his gumshield dangling precariously from his bottom lip as he flails his arms aimlessly trying to push it back in. They appeared to have no plan, no means of weathering the storm besides continuing to attack and hoping for the best. Four games previously, they had drawn 3-3 at Maine Road against Manchester City, who would end up the lowest scorers in the League that season and relegated. At a time when they desperately needed to pull out a couple of boring 1-0 wins to steady things a bit, they just couldn’t stop conceding goals

I like Kevin Keegan, but to compare his tactical acumen to that possessed, and illustrated time and time again this season, by Brendan Rodgers is to vastly undersell Liverpool’s current manager. More than that, it’s just plain wrong. The question asked of captain Steven Gerrard after the game as to the magnitude of Rodgers’ value to the team was a significant one. People are beginning to realise just how huge it really is. In a campaign where he has set his team up in various incarnations of 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 3-5-2 and pretty much whatever other numbers you may want to throw around depending on the players available to him and the opposition being faced, the absolute last thing you could ever say about this Liverpool team is that it lacks a plan other than to keep attacking and hope for the best. Furthermore his Liverpool, to me, don’t appear to be going weak at the knees at the prospect of a title run-in. Quite the opposite, they appear to be getting better and growing into the role of title-contenders week by week. At a difficult ground where Manchester City and Arsenal have already dropped points this season and with the opportunity to go second hanging over their heads, his side kept exactly the kind of clean-sheet so utterly beyond  Keegan’s team 18 years ago. I’m not sure if the word “mentality” was being thrown around too much in the spring of 1996, but the lack of a strong one is what ultimately did for Newcastle and that simply will not happen to Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool this season, wherever they end up, I’m absolutely convinced of that. When Chelsea needed goals today, a reserve like Andre Schurrle was able to contribute a hat-trick. That, if anything (and it’s beginning to become a big if), is what will likely be the difference between us and the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City come the end of the season, but there’s less and less doubt now that this team possesses the mental and physical toughness required of champions, just not, perhaps, the deep pockets.

Liverpool started magnificently today, and the rocky period before half-time where Southampton began to dominate, hit the post and forced a magnificent save from Mignolet shouldn’t take away from that. After 20 minutes, with the away side a goal up, a graphic flashed up on the screen stating that Southampton were yet to have a shot on goal. At the pace they play, together with the extent of their pressing and the ability they’ve got upfront, it was an amazing statistic in some ways, particularly given how badly outplayed eight of the same starters had been at St. Mary’s in a 1-3 defeat just under a year ago. Think about that for a moment – eight of the same players that started on the last visit there, and yet the two games couldn’t have started much differently. This time it was Liverpool flying out of the traps, going a goal up and treating the opposition to little more than scraps. Gerrard talked about that after the game and correctly pointed to it as evidence that this team learns. Absolutely. They’ve been learning for a year, and the huge difference in the two away days at Southampton is only a symptom of what is a far greater turnaround than even the most optimistic of us could scarcely have hoped for at the beginning of the season. Personally, I thought the centre of our defence had a pretty effective game tonight, all things considered. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I would have put my money on a clean-sheet when Southampton were creating chances in the first-half, but I thought Agger and Skrtel did well, far better than they did against Swansea. They read the through balls and made clearance after clearance as the home side got it wide and put plenty of crosses in, some good, some not so good. Johnson and Flanagan also did well enough considering how exposed they were at times. The midfield protection for the back four still isn’t fantastic, but the one-on-one battles were contested well against a team with plenty of quality going forward and one which was afforded a certain amount of freedom in wide areas given our decision to leave two-up and play narrow in the middle. I see that as Rodgers trusting his players to win their battles, and they did for the most part. Even for the chance where Lallana hit the post, Agger was all over him like a rash and did just enough to put him off. There’s still plenty of work to be done, undoubtedly, but the defence looked a lot better than some games recently, individually and collectively. Mignolet even punched a corner clear...

The Sterling substitution was perfect, and not just because he scored. It changed the game at a time when it needed to be changed and gave Southampton a different problem to worry about. The reason we’re so excited about the young man isn’t just the pace or the ability, it’s the brain. Rodgers said something after the game that some people see him as a wide player with pace but that they wanted to coach him to be a footballer. Well then, A+ so far for the coaching staff. His goal was a superb finish and the way in which he out-muscled and out-foxed the brick shithouse that is Victor Wanyama at one point brought a smile to my face. It’s nice to have options like that off the bench. I thought Allen too justified his selection, and when Lucas and Sakho return, we’ll have some real depth in certain positions. Most of all, there’s Luis Suárez, the best player in the Premier League. It truly puzzles me why there’s still a discussion about who should win the Player of the Year award.

And by the way?

It’s on.

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