The FourFourTwo Preview: Liverpool vs Southampton
A test of character at the Liverpool pressing plant.
- Liverpool 1-1 R Kazan (EL)
- Spurs 0-0 Liverpool (Prem)
- Everton 1-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 1-1 Sion (EL)
- Liverpool 3-2 Villa (Prem)
- So’ton 2-2 Leicester (Prem)
- Chelsea 1-3 So’ton (Prem)
- So’ton 3-1 Swansea (Prem)
- MK Dons 0-6 So’ton (LC)
- So’ton 2-3 Man Utd (Prem)
Honeymoon periods are unusually brief in the Premier League. For Jurgen Klopp, an arrival into the tumult of English football was greeted with a predictable level of hyperbole; his presence in the dug-out during Liverpool’s fixture at White Hart Lane overshadowed nearly everything executed by his team on the pitch. “It’s a new era!” proclaimed diehard Reds and Sky’s Anfield cheerleader-in-chief, Jamie Carragher, after their 0-0 draw.
Yes, Klopp’s players outran Spurs (by 1.2km; they were the first team to do so this season) in a hard-pressing display that expressed tenacity and fluidity. But was this really evidence of a remarkable tactical revolution after only three days of training ground reshuffling? Or a reminder that, you know, it’s what professional footballers tend to do when a new boss arrives? We’ve seen it many times before, after all. Amid the excitement of a changing guard, jaded personnel become re-energised, the demoralised brim with chutzpah. When Tim Sherwood replaced AVB at Spurs, even Emmanuel Adebayor broke into a stroll.
“Don't be fooled,” said former Red Jamie Redknapp. “Klopp is a fantastic appointment and I can't wait to see what he does but he doesn't have a magic wand. A team doesn't suddenly become fitter in three days. It takes hours of training to become an effective pressing team and Liverpool may not reap the benefits of Klopp's regime until next season.”
The good news, though, is that Liverpool’s squad has been enthused by Klopp’s arrival and, in the long-term, he’ll be an effective appointment. The bad is that, beyond the first 20 minutes at White Hart Lane, Liverpool only troubled Spurs in patches, and they couldn't beat Rubin Kazan at home in the Europa League. Meanwhile, some familiar headaches have already recurred: Daniel Sturridge is being swaddled in cotton wool yet again, Christian Benteke is currently emerging from the treatment room, and with the long-term injury to Danny Ings, Klopp’s makeshift frontline looks bereft of poke. If you’re relying on Divock Origi to apply the killer squeeze, results will be tough to come by.
But Benteke's back, and thankfully they’ll have the Kop behind them. Southampton are a team that have just wilted under sustained pressure. Having cruised into a two-goal lead against Leicester at St Mary’s, their resilience drooped amid a Jamie Vardy-inspired comeback. Had the game lasted for another 10 minutes, it’s likely Claudio Ranieri’s men would have claimed all three points.
This was further evidence that Ronald Koeman’s side have some room for improvement. The Saints have lost only twice in the league and have certainly thrilled in attack, as shown during that 2-3 loss to Manchester United and their 3-1 win over a beleaguered Chelsea. Against Leicester, however, they lost points to poor decision-making on the pitch; their inability to kill off the game proved their undoing. “Maybe they need to understand when you can build up and when you can play the long balls,” said Koeman afterwards. “If you watch the second half we didn’t have good possession.”
Saints will have to be selfish with the ball here. Forget the Europa League: this is Jurgen’s Klopp’s first 'proper' home game. Spirit is something Liverpool won’t be short of, especially at Anfield, and the Kop – plus its starting XI – will be in hyped mood. That should be enough to paper over their cracks here. If it doesn’t, Klopp’s honeymoon will have lost some of its sparkle.
On his arrival, Klopp’s injury list seemed overwhelming, but a handful of his nine injured squad players could be in contention for Sunday. Among the recovered are Roberto Firmino and Benteke, while Dejan Lovren and Sturridge aren't far off. Southampton are waiting on the fitness of keeper Maarten Steklenburg, who injured his back in training before the Leicester match. Striker Shane Long is out until November, while defender Florin Gardos and net-minder Fraser Forster are still missing for a long stretch.
Key player: James Milner (Liverpool)
Against Spurs, Milner was a driving force, breaking down play and delivering terrier-like persistence (also scything Danny Rose in two for a challenge that should have drawn a second yellow). It’s on such determined foundations that Klopp likes to structure his teams. Milner's role is two-fold. He can deliver width, swerving out to the right flank whenever Liverpool push the counter-attack button. Elsewhere, when Southampton drive forward, Milner – as he did against Spurs – will be required to drop into a defensive midfield three alongside Emre Can and Lucas Levia. These days, his job seems to be anything but boring.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Saints 0-2 L’pool (PL, Feb 15)
- L’pool 2-1 Saints (PL, Aug 14)
- Saints 0-3 L'pool (PL, Mar 14)
- L'pool 0-1 Saints (PL, Sep 13)
- Saints 3-1 L'pool (PL, Mar 13)
As you would expect, there’s plenty of positivity from Klopp. "We don't have to sprinkle magical dust on them: 'And now you can play football',” he said of his team after the Spurs result. “They know how to play. We just have to create a situation where it is possible to do this. I am not sure how many games you saw like this from Adam Lallana? I know him from Southampton and he can do 20-30 per cent more. Philippe Coutinho? Do you not think he can play better football than today? Of course, he can. Milner? The complete football player, the perfect professional. [You think] I should teach them technical aspects? They know.”
Koeman has his eye on the long-term, responding to contract extension talk with: “Be happy as I am now. And that means to work with a great club, with good people to develop the team and still to have the belief between the technical staff and players to go on. That's the key word, to continue or not, but it's my second season. We have time to think about it… The ambition is to continue and to improve.
"Make it better in how we play and get results and to achieve what we did last year and the ambition to win a title. It is very difficult, we know, but if Aston Villa can play in the FA Cup final, why not Southampton? That would be great and we will fight for that.”
Facts and figures
- James Milner has created 20 goalscoring chances for Liverpool; more than any other player for the club.
- Southampton have attempted more open play crosses than any other side in the first 9 matchdays of the 2015/16 season (171).
- Liverpool ran 116km in their first game under Klopp last weekend – further than they had run in any single Premier League game since the start of 2013/14.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
A home win for Liverpool. 2-1.