Beware the sides of March, “They” said. But then what do “They” know?
“They” also highlighted Luis Suarez’s lack of recent Liverpool goals prior to this trip to Southampton, where “They” said that the Reds’ dodgy defence was going to come a cropper against the Saints’ lively, energetic and largely English talents.
And talents they certainly are.
Skipper Adam Lallana was superb in the first half here, taking up positions in front of the Liverpool defence which the seemingly spaced-out Philippe Coutinho was supposed to be replicating at the other end. Rickie Lambert stood tall, Jay Rodriguez buzzed around and even Luke Shaw bombed forward from left-back.
Make no mistake, this was a very, very tough game for Liverpool, yet to emerge from it with a 3-0 victory and smiles as wide as the rivers Solent and Mersey put together sends out an emphatic message that, whether their coy manager Brendan Rodgers likes it or not, they are sticking around in this Premier League title race for the long haul.
The reasons why they won could be found at the front and back of their team, with a player not used to receiving criticism from “Them” (for his football anyway) and a defence which has had to get used to taking brickbats from all quarters in the past few months.
Let’s start with Suarez, something which the game did when the Uruguayan pounced on a moment of fortune to gloriously sweep his side ahead in the 16th minute of a first half in which Southampton would impress.
This was his version of the cliched “goal off his backside” that we all know a forward on a barren run needs—think Roberto Soldado, basically—but it wouldn’t have been Suarez had it not been a goal finished off with typical panache.
He’d managed one in eight before Saturday—not crisis-inducing, clearly, but for a man with an otherworldly tally of 10 goals in four games at one point earlier on in the season, there was perhaps a perception of concern.
Maybe that’s why Daniel Sturridge opted to try to pass to him instead of shoot and go for a ninth consecutive appearance on a Premier League scoresheet in the early stages of the game.
That moment could be looked upon as an example of the togetherness and teamwork currently flowing through the side here, the sort of attributes and talk that has led the manager and squad as a whole to take responsibility for the concession of plenty of goals lately.
Individual errors at the back were undoubtedly the key cause of those, though, yet here were Liverpool keeping out the hosts to register an eighth league clean sheet of the season in their 28th game.
Jon Flanagan was strong in the tackle, Martin Skrtel remembered how to be a baldheaded barrier, Daniel Agger suffered no ill effects from his exposure to Wilfried Bony last week and Glen Johnson performed admirably in his inside-out position at left-back—with the continually bizarre nature of Liverpool’s third-choice strip adding another unsymmetrical element to his performance.
Behind them all, Simon Mignolet accepted his call to arms with the fine reaction stop to keep out Rodriguez just before half-time. The importance of that moment cannot be overstated, because from there, a previously wobbly Liverpool were fantastic, with Rodgers getting the rewards for his clever switch in tactics.
The move to play both Joe Allen and a 4-4-2 diamond might have reaped some benefit in the first half had Coutinho been on his game or indeed anywhere near it, but why focus on that when you can marvel in the decision to bring on Raheem Sterling? The teenager became a goalscorer 80 seconds into his 50th Premier League appearance.
From there, it was all about ticking down the clock and preparing for the next match, a huge trip to Old Trafford which will have a staggering and perhaps interminable 15-day buildup, starting now.
There was still time for Suarez to win a penalty and for Steven Gerrard to score it in stoppage time, but all thoughts had long turned to Liverpool’s most important visit to Manchester in years by then.
What will “They” predict for that game? Who knows, although Liverpool will know what they want to hear.
Keep writing them off, they’ll say; keep criticising their defence; keep pointing out that they’re previously unstoppable forward has, well, stopped—because that only seems to make their unfathomable, extremely enjoyable title challenge all the more fascinating.