Liverpool are forced to settle for yet another draw as Southampton strike late to snatch a point at Anfield…
With a host of key players still out injured or deemed too unfit to start, Jürgen Klopp picked the same starting eleven as in his first game in charge against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.
Both sides started brightly and showed plenty of attacking intent with impressive pace and movement prominent.
For the hosts, a better first touch from Philippe Coutinho could have lead to an opener, while Emre Can found the side-netting with an ambitious angled effort.
Although possession and territory had been fairly even early on it was Liverpool who were looking the more threatening; Maarten Stekelenburg needing to deal with a low Adam Lallana shot from distance.
The pace and directness of Sadio Mane was keeping the Reds occupied at the back but, thankfully for the home defenders, the visitors’ final ball was more often than not misplaced.
Steven Davis did have a decent opening in the 20th minute though, following a poor Mamadou Sakho header, but his shot from the penalty spot was weak and straight at Simon Mignolet.
At the other end, both Coutinho and James Milner missed the target with attempts from the edge of the area as the game passed the half hour mark.
Liverpool were moving the ball around crisply but, as was the case in Klopp’s first two games in charge, their constant probing was generating little in the way of clear-cut openings.
Furthermore, they could easily have been behind at the break had it not been for a poor first touch from Mane that forced him away from goal following a delightful dinked through-ball.
Moments later Mignolet was also needed to thwart a Virgil van Dijk header. Worryingly for Klopp, the former Celtic defender was left totally unmarked and should have done better from such close range.
Given the need for a greater presence and goal threat in the box, it was little surprise to see Christian Benteke on at the interval in place of the ineffectual Divock Origi.
The £32.5m arrival from Aston Villa was instantly involved as Liverpool started the second half on the front foot, forcing a succession of early corners.
Alberto Moreno was becoming a growing threat down the left but on a trio of occasions he should have done better to pick out a team mate when well positioned.
The Spaniard did at least make amends going the other way with a fantastic sliding tackle to halt Mane. Southampton went close to bundling home the resulting corner.
Coutinho, who had again been quiet by his own high standards, brilliantly picked out Lallana in the 63rd minute but the former Saints captain couldn’t get a shot away before being closed down.
Both defences were firmly on top at this stage and the majority of attempts were increasingly in the speculative category.
Away boss Ronald Koeman made a bold change with 15 minutes remaining; sending on Spanish striker Juanmi for holding midfielder Jordy Clasie.
It backfired instantly though when Milner was allowed too much time and space to produce a cross that Benteke duly powered into the top corner with a brilliant header, much to the joy of Klopp on the touchline.
Southampton pushed forward looking for an instant riposte but Mignolet continued to be largely unworked as Southampton failed to hit the target.
The shot stopper was picking the ball out of his net five minutes from time though when Gaston Ramirez headed a dangerous free-kick back across goal for the omnipresent Mane to tap home.
It was a little harsh on Liverpool and worse could have followed in a frantic closing spell as both sides pressed for a winner.
Neither side would find one however, despite Mane receiving a red card for two bookable offences during stoppage time.
Three straight draws at the start of Klopp’s reign, which contribute to a run of just one outright win in nine matches overall, hardly screams progress but the faith remains unwavering that the German will revive fortunes at Anfield, and soon. This particular performance was a case of more of the same as the men in red again looked bright and controlled but without a telling end product when needed.
Whether it’s a hangover from Brendan Rodgers‘ tenure or a slow adaption to the new man’s tactics and philosophies, there is currently a lack of confidence and clinical thinking when in the final third. It’s an affliction that is affecting more than just the attacking players too, with midfielders and full-backs also regularly wasting periods of encouragement the moment they called for a key contribution. To regular viewers, particularly those who’ve not been carried away by Klopp’s captivating arrival, this will come as little surprise; a handful of training sessions and positive press coverage were never going to instantly turn around the Liverpool we’ve endured over the last 16 months.
Arguably the most worrying facet currently, besides putting the ball in the back of the net, is hanging onto a lead. This was the sixth time in that aforementioned nine match run that we’ve failed to hang-on to, or build upon, taking the lead. That points to something other than footballing ability and Klopp must work hard to repair belief and instil an improved mentality and focus amongst his players. A midweek Capital One Cup tie against a Bournemouth side who’ve shipped 10 goals in their last two outings will hopefully prove to be the perfect tonic.
Christian Benteke – Despite being far from fully fit, the big Belgium striker’s introduction provided a much needed focal point to Liverpool’s attack in the second half. His header was a rare moment of quality in front of goal and the Merseysiders desperately need the summer acquisition to start repeating it on a regular basis.
Mignolet, Clyne, Skrtel. Sakho, Moreno, Lucas, Can, Milner (c), Lallana (Firmino 67′), Coutinho (Ibe 83′), Origi (Benteke 45′).
Unused subs: Bogdan, Toure, Randall, Allen.
So that’s what we thought about the game, how about you? Let us know your verdict below or vote in our MOTM poll to the right…
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