After the woes of last season, Liverpool look like genuine contenders for the Premier League title again. They seem to be back to their best, even with a number of players absent through injuries, and on Saturday afternoon, Southampton felt the full brunt of the raging storm when they visited Anfield for their clash in the 13th round of the campaign.
Diogo Jota opened the scoring after less than two minutes and added another half an hour later. Thiago Alcantara whacked in the third with a bit of help from a favourable deflection in the 37th, and Virgil van Dijk scored against his former club to set the final scoreline in the 52nd.
Liverpool’s left-back situation
Not so long ago, Liverpool’s only designated left-back was Alberto Moreno, prone to both mistakes and injuries. James Milner, the experienced midfielder, actually spent an entire season in the role, ahead of the Spaniard in the pecking order, before the club signed Andy Robertson from Hull City. Eyebrows were raised at the time and the transfer left many ridiculing the club’s recruitment approach, but since then, Liverpool’s No.26 has become one of the best left-sided defenders in the world, and has been awarded the Scotland captain’s armband.
The season started for Robertson with an injury that kept him out for the opening two league matches, and Kostas Tsimikas, signed last year to be his understudy, stepped in and did a great job. The same happened when Robertson was out against Arsenal last week, following an injury he picked up on international duty.
The Greek performed so well that some thought manager Jurgen Klopp would consider putting him ahead of Robertson permanently, but ahead of this match, Klopp waved such suggestions away, backing the Scot as a world-class player openly. Robertson responded in the best way imaginable.
Andrew Robertson vs. Southampton
85% Pass accuracy
2/6 Accurate long passes
2/4 Crosses completed
4 Chances created
2 Big chances created
Right back where he belongs.https://t.co/iX69day8CL
— The Tactical Times (@Tactical_Times) November 27, 2021
To use a worn-out phrase, the presence of both Robertson and Tsimikas, playing as well as they are, gives Klopp the kind of problem every manager wants to have. Two superb players, competing for the spot in the team and pushing each other get better every day.
Robertson was truly superb against the Saints, closing his flank down immaculately at one end and combining beautifully, mostly with Sadio Mane, at the other. His assist for Jota’s opener was a real work of art from both Robertson and Mane, as they went two-on-three and broke through to set the goal up.
The Diogo Jota impact
Like Tsimikas, Jota arrived to Liverpool last year to provide depth and added competition, but the Portugal international fitted in so quickly that he has indeed become at least equal to Roberto Firmino in the attacking order. His versatility, however, makes him quite suitable to replace Mane, or even Mohamed Salah in the team. Salah (11 goals), Mane and Jota (seven each) now occupy the top three places in the Premier League goalscoring chart, though it should be said that Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy is up there with the latter two.
01:37 – Diogo Jota’s goal after just 97 seconds against Southampton is Liverpool’s earliest in the Premier League since April 2019 (15 seconds vs Huddersfield). Blocks. #LIVSOU
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 27, 2021
For a long time it was said that Liverpool’s front three, as brilliant as they are, had no alternative when it came to team selection. It’s been clear for a while now that the Merseysiders have a fourth attacker of which opposition defences need to be wary too. In fact, Liverpool haven’t failed to score at least once in any competition since the goalless draw they played against Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals in mid-April. That’s more than seven months.
What about Southampton?
Southampton have been playing interesting football since Ralph Hasenhuttl took charge of the team nearly three years ago. The size of the budget at his disposal and the fact that bigger clubs always look towards St. Mary’s in search of the next Mane or Van Dijk don’t make the Austrian’s job easy, that much is clear.
The final scoreline, though perfectly mirroring the fire that is Liverpool, doesn’t really do justice to Southampton. It’s not that they played badly. It’s not as if they didn’t have chances to score themselves. It was just that the hosts, one of the best teams in the world, were at their best in many aspects.
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) November 27, 2021
It’s never a shame to lose to a great team unless no effort is made, and that certainly wasn’t the case for the Saints. They gave all they had, and if they continue like that in weeks to come, they should have no worries as the season progresses towards its end.
Speaking to the press after the match, Hasenhuttl admirably took full responsibility for the result and his team’s performance, but the reality is, they simply weren’t allowed to do more by the opposition, who thrive on pressuring you into submission. The Southampton boss and his players really shouldn’t be kicking themselves too much. Better teams have foundered in that sea.