By Umarah Naz
Liverpool’s results when returning from international breaks have been utterly forgettable, to put it mildly. The last time saw us play out a shockingly unexpected 0-0 against a Jose Mourinho side at Anfield. Some are only just recovering from this thunderbolt from the blue.
Previous to that we were unceremoniously thumped 5-0 at the Etihad by Manchester City with the final whistle the only positive to come out of that game. So you couldn’t blame us for being tentative when returning from what seemed like the four hundredth international break this season.
The opponents were our very own shopping centre and perennial bus parkers, Southampton, who we hadn’t scored against since March 2016 when we lost 3-2 having led 2-0.
The Saints came to Anfield under the new management of Argentinian, Mauricio Pellegrino, having won just three games this season and find themselves fourteenth in the table. And with the boss feeling the heat they needed some kind of result to ease that pressure.
Liverpool had won three games in a row after that Wembley nightmare so it was vital to keep that momentum going despite the two week break. Jurgen Klopp, back from his precautionary trip to the hospital last week, made some changes with the fixture list piling up in front of him. Trent Alexander-Arnold came in for Joe Gomez at right-back and Phillipe Coutinho replaced Emre Can in midfield.
But the one change that had us all sweating was forced with Joel Matip picking up an injury just a day before and Dejan Lovren the only replacement to come in. The centre-back hadn’t played since the game against Tottenham apart from a short cameo at the London stadium in the final minutes.
Add to the drama that the opposition was his former club, whose fans have never quite forgiven him for forcing his move to Anfield in 2014 and have delighted in his difficult times at Liverpool. It remained to be seen how the Croatian would cope with the torrent of horrific abuse thrown at him by the Saints fans.
As the game unfolded, it was apparent that we started as we always do with our minds on only one thing. Full pelt attack.
After thirty minutes of near misses and half-chances, that intent paid off when Mohamed Salah curled a left-foot beauty in the far right-hand corner. And remember, he can’t finish.
That goal saw him equal Robbie Fowler’s record of eight goals in his opening twelve league games. Ten minutes later, he reminded us of his poor finishing when he was the grateful recipient of a lovely pass by Coutinho with the outside of his right boot, as he tucked the ball away with his first touch past a sprawling Fraser Forster. Record broken.
The second-half provided much of the same with Coutinho ending any hopes of an unlikely Southampton comeback with his follow up of Firmino’s shot finding the back of the net. Mane’s cute reverse pass put Firmino through but his shot was chested away by Forster only to fall into the path of the oncoming Coutinho who made no mistake.
Klopp got just what the doctor ordered; a stress-free win. And equally as important was the clean sheet with Lovren accounting himself extremely well against all the odds. Aerially dominant, positionally competent barring the odd occasion, a crucial block from a Sofiane Boufal shot which had Klopp fist pumping on the touch line, and a gloriously cynical foul landing rival Virgil Van Dijk on his backside.
No surprise that he didn’t check to see how the Dutchman was after he picked up his yellow card. Regardless of your feelings on Lovren, he will be needed in the upcoming fixture pile up so this performance can only be a positive and it would be wise to get off his back for now.
Many hailed this performance as a professional one from the Reds. We kept our heads and maintained control of the game where previously we may have succumbed to the pressure. The Saints didn’t have a shot on target thanks to an all round excellent team performance where everyone acquitted themselves well from front to back.
The attackers always get the plaudits, and rightly so, but when the midfield and defence function even competently the results are clear to see as we saw at Anfield on Saturday afternoon. If we could do it consistently, what a difference it would make.
There does seem to a different feel to Liverpool after the Spurs loss; a more controlled, mature approach to games. It seems like an age ago but it’s only been four games since then and, of course, there is a long way to go until we prove the doubters wrong but it might just have been the kick up the bum that Klopp needed to address the issues. Long may it continue.