Liverpool have six points from six following a 2-1 win over Southampton at St. Mary’s. Sadio Mane’s brilliant right-footed strike just before halftime gave the Reds the lead. It was against the run of play and something Liverpool didn’t deserve.
The first 45 minutes were hard to watch. Jurgen Klopp’s starting XI looked tired, heavy-legged, and Southampton took it to them. Jordan Henderson and Fabinho both started on the bench with a midfield-three of Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain starting. Adrian also shrugged off an ankle injury to start the game.
Liverpool just couldn’t get possession in the opening half and Mohamed Salah was anonymous on the right-hand side of the attack. Yet, Liverpool’s defence stood strong and it is safe to say they had their best game of the season at St. Mary’s. What was different? Joel Matip started next to Virgil van Dijk and the back four didn’t play with the high line we have seen in the first three competitive matches. Southampton weren’t able to get in behind them although they tried.
Mane’s goal on the cusp of halftime was just what Liverpool needed. They were a far different team in the second 45. The energy levels had been lifted and now, the attacking three of Mane, Salah, and Firmino were running at Southampton’s defenders.
Salah and Firmino both missed golden opportunities on counter-attacks to put the Reds up 2-0. On 71 minutes, Firmino finally made Southampton pay for their let off in the second half. He dribbled around the top of the 18-yard box with defenders giving him space and time. The Brazilian then shot low and back across goalkeeper Angus Gunn for his first goal of the season. It was another good performance from Firmino and the assist was provided by the man of the match Mane.
Mane started last season slowly and as Christmas approached it seemed like he had fallen behind the performances of the season prior. He obviously picked it up and it continues. The Senegal international is in the best form of any Liverpool attacking player. He now has three goals and one assist in three matches for Liverpool this season.
The second goal did spur Southampton back to life. Again, Liverpool’s defence played its best game of the season with Van Dijk and Matip cutting out balls and starting attacks. Liverpool’s defence made six dispossessions, won 17 defensive aerials (Matip won four of them), made 10 interceptions, seven tackles, and 30 clearances.
It wasn’t the defence that allowed Southampton’s goal, it was sloppy goalkeeping from Adrian, who didn’t move the ball quickly. His clearance was knocked down by Danny Ings, yes that Danny Ings who could never be fit enough to play for Liverpool yet Michael Edwards got £20 million for him, and the ball ricocheted off the striker’s boot and into the goal.
Adrian came up with a couple of big saves on Saturday. His best in the first half as he stopped a headed corner. In all, Adrian made three saves with two being parried stops. It isn’t Adrian’s saves that are the issue like with Loris Karius or Simon Mignolet, it is his distribution and pace. He slows the game down when he receives the ball rather than quickly get it out to his defenders or send a ball downfield to Salah.
In Adrian’s defence, Alisson Becker has made mistakes. His Cruyff turn at Leicester City last term resulted in a goal for the Foxes. Despite the slow play from Adrian and the Southampton goal, Liverpool were able to hold on for the 2-1 victory.
At the end of the day Saturday, Liverpool sat at the top of the Premier League thanks to goal difference. Arsenal are second and Manchester City, who were denied a goal courtesy of the great equaliser VAR, are third along with Tottenham Hotspur. Next Saturday, Liverpool welcome Arsenal to Anfield for a top of the table clash.