Film Focus: Previewing Southampton vs. Liverpool

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2014

Liverpool’s ongoing quest for unlikely Premier League glory will continue on Saturday evening at Southampton, the only team to have beaten the Reds at Anfield this season.

The Saints’ 1-0 win back in September was a reality check for Brendan Rodgers’ side following their impressive start to the season, which had brought three wins and a draw from four games, but since then they’ve grown into the top scorers in the English top flight.

That clash in September was also the final match that Liverpool played without Luis Suarez as the Uruguayan returned from suspension to hog the headlines, but right now the goals are flowing from all over the pitch for the Reds, with 12 scored in their last three league games.

The problem remains with their defence of course, and that will be put to the test against a strong Southampton side that have impressed many this season.

But where will the match be won and lost?

Through analysing both teams’ most recent Premier League fixture, here we pick out the crucial aspects of a clash which promises to be an entertaining one:


Keeping a High Line Will Be Costly with Sturridge Around

In each of Liverpool’s last three Premier League games, Daniel Sturridge has scored a goal from a perfectly timed through ball.

Southampton will have to find a way of keeping a forward who has scored in eight successive league games quiet, but what is sure to worry them is that those three through passes were played by three different players―Philippe Coutinho against Arsenal, Steven Gerrard at Fulham and Raheem Sterling against Swansea as pictured above.

These goals haven’t come about because of a “special relationship” between a pair of players on the pitch―a bit like we used to see at Liverpool when Gerrard set up Fernando Torres for plenty of his goals―but they were more down to fantastic movement from Sturridge, the forward timing his runs to perfection and the passer being completely in sync with him.

Liverpool attempt a divisional-high five through balls a game, a tally that actually goes up to six per game when they play away from home (as per WhoScored), so the Saints will have to keep a rigid and deep defensive line if they want to keep out the in-form forward.

Unfortunately for them, that is exactly what they didn’t do in their last fixture at West Ham, a 3-1 defeat in which Matt Jarvis scored the Hammers’ equaliser when he ran in behind the defence and on to Kevin Nolan’s through ball.

Saints appealed for offside in vain, and whilst on another day they could certainly have got the decision, the slightly deeper position of right-back Calum Chambers, who had been sprinting back to try and recover his position, was ultimately what did for them.

You could argue that Jose Fonte was also not in line with his other defenders Luke Shaw and Maya Yoshida, and so the hosts will have to get that line right if they are to deal with Sturridge. The return of Dejan Lovren, who scored the winner at Anfield and is tipped to play at St. Mary’s by Sky Sports, could be crucial here.


Attacking Movement Will be Key for Saints Against the Reds’ Suspect Defence

Much has been made of the defensive problems at Liverpool this season, issues which admittedly can often be overlooked because of their strong attacking play.

The suspicion is that this lack of defensive discipline will eventually cost Rodgers’ side though, and for Southampton to benefit here the key will be for their attacking talents such as Jay Rodriguez, Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana to simply keep moving.

It doesn’t even have to be that a sophisticated level of movement either, as we see here from the penalty that Liverpool conceded against Swansea.

Half-time substitute Jose Canas gets himself into the penalty area in the opening moments of the second half, and at first it appears as though Liverpool have everything in order with Martin Skrtel picking up the Spaniard and Daniel Agger on Wilfried Bony.

By the time the cross has come in though, Canas has drifted away from the penalty area and forced Skrtel to simply feel he has to deal with the situation despite the presence of Agger, who by now he has got too close to.

The result sees Skrtel bundle over Bony despite Agger clearing the ball, leading to an admittedly soft penalty, but one that the Slovakian could have conceded countless times this season.


Henderson’s Forward-Thinking Could be Key

Jordan Henderson was mightily impressive in the Swansea win, frequently getting forward and grabbing himself two goals, including the winner.

With the deeper role that Gerrard takes up these days allowing his young England teammate a little more freedom, Henderson can now be seen doing things that would have been associated with his captain 10 years ago, when he was of the same age.

Against Swansea, Henderson scored a goal from long range a la Gerrard, and then for his second he bombed on into the box to get on the end of a chance after Luis Suarez’s effort had been blocked.

As we see here, it was Gerrard’s long pass to the Uruguayan which started the move, with Henderson hardly in a position that you’d expect a goalscorer to be in.

With no less than seven Reds players ahead of Gerrard as he plays the pass, it is Henderson who ends up almost on the goal line to nudge home the winner after Michel Vorm had parried his initial effort.

The midfielder’s breaks forward will be crucial here as Liverpool seek the goals which would win them a crucial three points in both the title race and their Champions League challenge.


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