Southampton v Liverpool
St.Mary’s, Sunday 20th March 2016
> Koeman then sends on Wanyama and Mané
> Mané has a penalty saved
> Then scores twice, including the 86th minute winner
Match starts off rather back and forth with no real chances until the 10th minute. Shane Long breaks into the box, puts his butt in front of Lovren and is roundly taken down. I have to assume that Shlong is developing a reputation and therefore doesn't get the call of what appeared a clear penalty on Lovren.
Play resumes and the back n' forth continues. At the 12th minute a pretty ball over the line from Martina drops at Shlong's racing feet at the edge of the box, he pushes it forward but perhaps too far as Lovren is able to clear for the corner avoiding the danger.
It's clear that Scousers are trying to play through up the left as they like the matchup of Martina v. Coutinho. In the 16th minute Coutinho plays the switch outside the box finding Flanagan who finds Sturridge outside the box with space. A rather weak left footed shot that fails to really curl lands safely in Forster's mitts. Liverpool look to be the better at buildup at the moment while Saints are letting them play up and trying to break them down on the counter.
A few minutes later another turnover in midfield helps Joe Allen drive a pass up to Origi to the left of the back line. A strong cutback run finds Origi with space right at the edge of the box, but his shot rings harmlessly off the bum of Sturridge (luckily for Liverpool Sturridge is not injured and his glass derriere remains unharmed for the time being). Right off of that clear, a quick buildup has Pellè leave the ball for Martina, but they just do not appear to be on the same wavelength (a common note I made for Saints most of the first half... if the ball needed to be out front it was direct, if it needed to be direct, it was out front. Just a ton of frustrated ends to runs that the ball fails to find the player.).
It was really starting to look like Liverpool were taking control and off that turnover the ball ends up with Coutinho down the right hand side. Given a little space about 25 meters out (didn't we learn our lesson last year?...) Phillipe bends a beautiful ball that bounces past the diving Forster and finds the bottom of the net behind the far post. A wonderful strike reminiscent of last season and a worrisome result. So where were the defensive midfielders to press him? Romeu was wrong footed when Coutinho cut in and couldn't make up the difference. Clasie seemed lost like a child with a new toy, oblivious to the world around him. He looked that way most of the game, similar to Tadić. At times they were trying to avoid receiving the ball and having to make a play, or stepping up and doing their job (ahem... take out Coutinho and don't give him 2 meters of space inside 30....).
Seems like the whole team is on the back foot, reacting instead of acting. Too many missed passes, too many poor first touches, too many failures to even get a bad final ball into the box. Would be huge if Saints could steal one back before the half.
A few minutes later Saints are responding. A good buildup and a well placed in ball by Virgil sees Tadić deep in the Liverpool territory. However he gives it away and Liverpool are whip smart in pushing the ball on the counter. Origi finds the ball at his feet down the left, finds Sturridge 5 meters in the box. A deft foot swirl and both defenders and Forster are left on their heels. Sturridge doesn't even move, then whips it in low and wide to find the net. 2-0 Scousers and my first thought is... 'let's hope we don't pack it in now.'
Joe Allen eventually makes it 3-0 off a mess in front of goal, but Sakho is ruled to be obstructing from an offside position and the goal is disallowed. Still 2-0, still a goal away from making a game of it.
37th minute Pellè fires a ball off target from an off-balance position. At first I thought he missed Bertie pacing down the wing, then I realised Bertrand stopped his run when he felt he could safely assume Pellè was going to shoot at all costs... which tells you something in itself I guess.
38th minute, I'm wondering how much we miss Wanyama in the midfield as we just perpetually can't hold it through the middle and his penchant for playing up against the big clubs. At this point I'm starting to doubt whether I need a scapegoat. Really noticing the disappearing act Clasie and Tadić are working with. I really like Tadić's ... "flair" but he looks like he has none of that.
40th minute, more 'wrong page/foot' and I'm starting to speculate a change of Mané for Pellè and Prowsey for Clasie.
The first half is winding down and it already appears Liverpool are trying to drag the game out. They've definitely slowed their attack, they just appear to be missing an edge and take their foot off the gas to end the half. Even so we're not really a team built for comebacks and desperately need an early goal to gain some momentum in the second. Saints are lucky to get into the dressing room only down 2-0 and I wonder what Koeman is going to do to turn things around.
We don't have to wait long to find out what changes will be made as Koeman boldly makes a dual substitution at the break. Mané on for Tadić and Wanyama on for Clasie. The types of players who might be motivated from watching a match against a big club where they generally audition well. Turns out this was no lark as both players impact are felt immediately.
The opening moments relieved my fears and settled my stomach. Both Mané and Wanyama within a few minutes both were calm on the ball and making good decisions. I let myself wonder if it might not be possible if both of these light switch players (off or on...) were flicked the right direction. The best example for Mané was when he collected the deflection from a missed cross to Pellè and rather than immediately fire on goal, took a touch, used his body to hold position, then pulled the pass back... the ensuing shot from Davis was blocked and trickled harmlessly to Mignolet, but when Mané plays composed his speed is even that much more electric because he's not trying go light speed only.
51st minute Davis is, I'm positive of it, about to give away the ball with too much fancy footwork, but instead pokes the ball out of the crowd, gets to it first and fires a thru ball to a diagonally streaking Pellè right in front of the box. He and Skrtel collide and the penalty is given. Mané steps up to the spot, I get it, give him some confidence even though part of me feels like if you draw it you should get to take it. Sadly, Mane goes for placement over power and Mignolet reaches it to his right.
52-56.... Scousers really fall off the pace here. They're still holding more possession but other than a couple of almost a half chances with Origi they can't get anything going. Saints, meanwhile look to be playing with more and more boldness and energy. With Wanyama to cover the back 4 Romeu is freed up to harass and press further forward. Liverpool seem to have less and less energy and it feels like they just want it to be over already. Pellè and Long even playing well together, one good wasted counter came off a nifty holdup and over the top ball from Pellè to Long, but Long unfortunately crossed it harmlessly into the arms of Mignolet.
58-59 Liverpool miss a chance when a diving Can can't quite get enough on the ball to keep Wanyama from taking what little pace it had on, completely off to be easily scooped by Fraser.
60-61st. Saints are clearly on the front foot. Every time Liverpool puts it to midfield Wanyama seems to come flying in to steal possession. One particularly scrappy play had him crawling on all fours until a foul was called on Joe Allen. Several half and almost half chances including a delectable ball that skitters right in front of the empty net, past a diving Mané out of bounds. Saints clearly look more likely to make it a game again than the Reds are looking to slam the door with a third.
64th: Romeu puts a powerful shot on goal, touched above the crossbar by Mignolet but the goal kick is given anyway. On the ensuing restart, Can turns it over on the Reds half, Pellè pushed it forward to a streaking Mané who takes a nifty one touch to give himself space, before placing it in the far corner of the net from a short angle. The kind of opportunity we saw Mané either waste his first touch, rush his shot, or just give away the ball earlier in the year. Especially great to see him continue to play with composure after the missed penalty... 1-2 and without a response from Klopp Liverpool looks happy to try to ride it out.
68th: Liverpool responds with a diagonal run by Can. A series of back 'n forths and Clyne has the ball just inside the edge of the box, tees it up but hits a grounder right at Forster. Can is looking ragged, as is Allen. Surprised Klopp has left them both in as Wanyama and Romeu are just hounding the midfield.
69th: JWP on for Romeu. I like Ward-Prowse here, as he uses his body well in a holding role and has good vision beyond his already established class from set pieces and corners. Benteke comes on for Sturridge as well.
73rd-74th: A string of sloppy play leads to an Origi/Benteke led counter attack. Some decent push and a poorly placed (and probably considered) back heel to the edge of the box for a streaking Joe Allen misses him completely allowing Mané to turn and counter the counter! Aaaand it leads to nothing... time winding. Saints are starting to send more forward and another Liverpool counter leads to a well struck ball that never leaves the ground, gets past Forster, but Benteke has to watch as it skitters inches wide of the far post.
78th: Still a back and forth with no clear cut chances transpiring. I'm starting to think Ward Prowse was sent off with the notion of clipping the heels and ankles of Can and Allen. He already bowled Allen over and then runs through Can. That sort of aggressiveness if used wisely can push a tired player further from trying. And I like players with a bit of a mean streak anyways. And oh my goodness, you can hear the supporters singing... maybe if the stadium believes, the players will see something fall at their feet.
79th: Scousers seem to have hopped the bus as they're bringing everyone back and Saints are getting more and more possession in the Liverpool Third. This is the point last year where I would've rolled my eyes and expected to see a series of poor final balls... but this season and with the response we've had the second half I'm hopeful.
82nd: God sometimes I just love Big Vic. Joe Allen takes a speculative shot from 35 yards out, because he probably doesn't want to run the 15 yards to get closer. It goes off a Saint's face then Wanyama manhandles him with a headed touch, a reached pop up touch on his right, then Allen finally gives up and takes him down. If we got this every week, we could have Champions League (viewpoint A)... If we got to put in Wanyama at halftime against a smaller midfield who had then run for 45 minutes more than him, he would be able to put in these kinds of performances each week! (viewpoint B).
83rd: Fonte sends a high arcing ball forward from the back. The ball is always faster than the man, so Liverpool don't have the bus parked yet. Pellè beats Skrtel to the ball and heads it down to Davis, a quick flick diagonally to Long who leaves it for Pellè at the top of the box. Two quick touches to set up his left foot and leave Sakho flopping at a failed tackle and Pellè guides the ball perfectly into the top left corner, past the courtesy dive by Mignolet (I guess it must be warm enough for those to go in now). 2-2 Saints and it's been at least 5 minutes since the Scousers even looked like they wanted to keep playing the match.
85th: Liverpool can't even touch the ball it seems... all Saints, definitely better organised and better focused and continue to press forward. Lallana picks off a pass down the line and feeds it in to Can... who is set upon by Ward-Prowse immediately then Wanyama... like Raptors. He does a good job of not losing possession but his backpass to Flanagan leads to another to Mignolet, who has to rush a bit to clear from the chasing Pellè. He skies a ball so high that Skrtel is blinded by the deflection off his dome and watches it miss him completely, as Ward-Prowse collects, but under pressure just shoves Skrtel to the ground like he's a Spanish striker and Long puts a ball through to Mané, who sat on Sakho 'til the ball was at Long's feet... Sakho is left flailing again, as Mané this time puts it across Mignolet to the bottom of the far post on a line. Beautiful goal, but the toughness and wits of Ward-Prowse and the vision of Long paid that one through.
91st (AKA BigVic's Swan Song): Wanyama takes a run from inside our half, all the way to the opposite flag... to a standing ovation. He was focused, deliberate, and measured.
The rest of extra time: Not much to see here. Some flaccid high balls in. A so-so counter. Another attempt by Benteke to steal points by flopping in the box. Davis singlehanded chases the ball back to Mignolet.
This might be the best performance of the season. Saints played multiple ways, over the top led to Pellè's goal, nifty passing led to the others, but consistent belief is the difference. They didn't give up and the team put in a performance.
Great performance, great win.
I can't but feel torn in that I felt this game deserved this level of scrutiny... but I hate that it took so long.
End Notes: I muttered, "it's just... fecking scousers" at least 6 times over the course of the match.
17 van Dijk
14 Romeu (Ward-Prowse 69')
4 Clasie (Wanyama 45')
11 Tadic (Mané 45' - Booked 86')
6 Lovren (Booked 25') (Skrtel 45' - Booked 49')
23 Can (Booked 48')
24 Allen (Ojoat 87')
15 Sturridge (Benteke 70')
4 K Touré
- Mané 64', 86'
- Pellè 83
- Coutinho 17'
- Sturridge 22'
Referee : Roger East
Attendance : 31,596
- Southampton 49%
- Liverpool 51%
- Southampton 16
- Liverpool 18
Shots on Target
- Southampton 5
- Liverpool 9
- Southampton 3
- Liverpool 5
- Southampton 10
- Liverpool 13