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August 17, 2014

Liverpool fortunate to get the 3 points as Simon Mignolet submits early contender for save of the season, writes John Novak.

Blustery conditions on a pitch that appeared slippery early confronted the players at Anfield as both Liverpool and Southampton kicked off their Premier League campaigns. Liverpool set up in a 4–2–3–1 formation and Southampton as a 4–3–3 although their shape was more closely aligned to 4–4–2 when they were without the ball.

The pass and move philosophy so instilled in the team by Brendan Rodgers was fantastically demonstrated as recently as last week in Liverpool’s final preseason match against Borussia Dortmund.

However if Liverpool supporters were expecting their team to burst out of the gates from the first minute, they were duly proved wrong as they struggled to get their short passing-high tempo game cranking into gear. Indeed their best moves in the opening stages involved slightly longer passes from deep from Steven Gerrard.

New signing Javier Manquillo made his debut at right back and showed early ambition to get forward to the opponent penalty box. His direct opponent Dusan Tadic however would prove a tricky customer all day and on 12 minutes Manquillo was caught forward and forced to scurry back as a dangerous looking Southampton counter attack eventually broke down.

On 23 minutes, the game had its first goal. Jordan Henderson showed his industrious side by winning two challenges in central midfield before lofting an incisive long pass with his left foot that perfectly split a retreating Nathaniel Clyne and Jose Fonte. Speedster Raheem Sterling ran onto the pass and connected delicately to slot the ball into the bottom right corner in the face of an onrushing Fraser Forster.

The remainder of the half proved relatively even despite Liverpool controlling possession. Both Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva were able to pick up the ball from deep numerous times to begin the play but it was notable that their ability to link up with Philippe Coutinho was non-existent.

Some credit must go to Victor Wanyama who made a number of tackles on Coutinho and largely kept him out of the game forcing Rodgers to withdraw him later on. Wanyama continued to provide good balance in central midfield to a Southampton side that despite losing a host of players in the off season, clearly still has ability.

The second half brought a surge of confidence to the Southampton players as all three front men of Tadic, Ward-Prowse and Graziano Pelle began to get more involved. Tadic in particular was becoming more of a menace and it appeared Javier Manquillo was perhaps caught in two minds for long periods of the half.

Its likely he was operating under instructions from Rodgers to get forward when possible, but the intelligence and creativity of Tadic had him thinking twice as a he began to be exploited.

Then in the 55th minute, a marvelous piece of hold up play and a sneaky back heel saw Tadic return a pass to Nathaniel Clyne who had continued his run on the right side. He closed in on goal and finished emphatically past a hapless Simon Mignolet.
No Liverpool player took responsibility for Clynes’ run, with both Lucas Leiva and Raheem Sterling caught ball watching during Southampton’s most incisive move thus far.

At 1–1 Liverpool began to get jittery as Southampton pushed forward with new found confidence. Indeed Steven Davis should have put Southampton ahead after some brilliant link up play between Ward-Prowse and Tadic stretched the Liverpool defence wide allowing Davis a first time shot on goal in acres of space. Fortunetly for the reds his resulting shot was not hit well enough and Mignolet saved without too much hassle.

By midway through the second half it was clear by this stage that the red faithful were nervous and beginning to grow in frustration at the team’s inability to assert themselves in their opponent. Tadic had lifted his game to a new level, continuing to keep Manquillo honest who let’s not forget is just 20 years old.

On 74 minutes Tadic was substituted for Isgrove, another promising looking youngster who made a positive contribution with glimpses of flair and creativity.

Liverpool restored their lead in the 79th minute thanks to an error by Victor Wanyama. His poor headed clearance from a cross fell to an onrushing Sterling who managed to steer a downward header toward Daniel Sturridge.
Sturridge glanced a reactionary low touch from no more than 4 yards to nestle the ball in the bottom left corner as he sped off to celebrate. Calls for offside were incorrect as the replay showed Sturridge had timed his anticipation perfectly.

There was still drama to be had as Southampton had two more glorious chances in quick succession with just 2 minutes left of normal time. The first, an outstanding point blank save by Simon Mignolet who surely will be winning many plaudits from his peers after his superhuman effort.

A teasing cross from the right by Clyne ended up bouncing nicely for Morgan Schneiderlin who hammered his effort at head height from 10 yards. Mignolet’s outstretched right arm somehow found a finger on the ball which tipped it onto the underside of the crossbar. The rebound falling to new signing Shane Long who will still be wondering how he failed to put his tame header on target.

Liverpool managed to hold out for the remainder of added time, and will be well pleased with snaring 3 points on a day when they were far from their best. On the contrary, Southampton fans will feel disappointed not to get a point out of the game, however they can be more confident after Ronald Koeman’s first game in charge that they will still be a very competitive side this season.


Liverpool 2 vs Southampton 1
(Sterling 23, Sturridge 79) - (Clyne 56)

Attendance 44,736

Referee: Mark Clattenburg

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