Martin King looks at five talking points from Liverpool’s stalemate with Southampton.
Liverpool were held to a frustrating goalless draw in their return to Premier League action against Southampton on Saturday.
The Saints were set up by Claude Puel to guard against the attacking threat of the Reds, with goalkeeper Fraser Forster and defensive duo José Fonte and Virgil van Dijk making some crucial interventions throughout the tie and Southampton showing little ambition to get forward and score goals, despite boasting an attacking threat of their own.
Here are five things we learned from a wet evening at the South Coast.
International break has detrimental effects
Saturday’s match proved just why fans hate international breaks with a passion.
As if ruling midfielder Adam Lallana out with a groin injury wasn’t enough, the effects of two weeks out clearly took their toll on the majority of the Liverpool squad, particularly Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino.
The Brazilian duo had to travel at least 12,000 miles to return to Melwood after representing their nation, manager Klopp even admitted to not seeing them for training until Thursday and against Southampton an apparent lack of physical and mental sharpness, possibly due to fatigue, was a disappointing factor that contributed to the final result.
You only have to watch the goal-scoring chance that Firmino created in sending Coutinho – who required a late fitness test to determine his involvement – through on goal in the second half to see how bad the effects were.
The little magician would usually bury those chances with ease but on this occasion, there was a clear physical burden on his shoulders (and it wasn’t José Fonte).
Dejan Lovren is underrated
Mark these words: If Dejan Lovren wasn’t the target of a two-year flow of criticism from observers, his performance against his former club alone would have Liverpool fans eating out of his very hand.
The Croatian impressed again alongside Joel Matip, supporting his centre-back partner by regularly snubbing out the rare attacking threats made by Southampton. While Matip was particularly key aerially, Lovren marshalled ongoings on the ground and showed a much-needed solidity for Liverpool on the day.
Although credit has to be given to the travelling supporters for reacting positively to his display – even amidst the boos he received from the home crowd – questions do have to be posed as to whether the entire Liverpool fanbase, especially those in the media, have fully accepted him as a top centre-back.
Too often this season, fans and pundits have easily poured endless praise over free-signing Matip (some even considering him above rival signings David Luiz, Eric Bailly and John Stones) however, for all his similar contributions, Lovren has yet to receive the same level of praise.
Perhaps the Croatian will never be fully embraced by the Kopites for his past errors. Either way, his inclusion in Klopp’s side remains no mistake, arguably making him a flawed hero.
Loris Karius remains untested
His transfer from German Bundesliga club Mainz may have generated a lot of optimism from the Anfield faithful but perhaps it’s time to accept that goalkeeper Loris Karius is not going to be the one grabbing the headlines in this Liverpool side.
Relax, that is not a statement of criticism, it’s a fact.
In analysing Karius’ current situation a few weeks ago, I wrote that Klopp’s side is set up in such a way that the goalkeeper won’t constantly be put under large amounts of pressure in each game and that couldn’t have been any more true given his performance against the Saints.
Liverpool had their opponents pinned back so far inside their own half for large periods of the game that Karius could’ve very well done with a chair and an umbrella. And even when Puel’s men turned the tables, the response from the Reds’ midfield and defensive line was a defiant one, leaving Karius under minimal amounts of pressure for 94 minutes.
The German’s start to life on Merseyside has often been compared to that of David De Gea’s in Manchester, however, those making such observations may have to come to terms with the clear fact that even if Karius does become as good as De Gea, he won’t be making the back pages like the Spaniard on a weekly basis – either way you see it, that’s a good thing.
Opposing teams respect Liverpool
Such is the excellence of Liverpool’s attacking play this season that opposition sides have been left with little choice but to show the Reds respect in setting up on ultra-defensive mode.
Southampton were the latest to do so. The Saints completely ignored engaging their opponents in an expansive attacking battle, leaving striker Charlie Austin a frustrated lone figure in Liverpool’s defensive third.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that from now until the end of the season, that is how teams will set-up against Klopp’s side, with the main challenge now being for them to find a way to goal. However, the Reds’ lack of quality in-front of goal against Southampton suggests that behind that challenge lies another: scoring.
Up next in the league is Sunderland at home, the Black Cats will undoubtedly play the exact same way, meaning that Liverpool must find their clinical touch if that fixture is to be won.
Title race is anyone’s game
This 0-0 result at the South Coast proved that the race for the Premier League title is as open as it has ever been. Simply put: no one is going to run away with it.
It looks very much set to be the kind of season when top-spot is shared rather than monopolised and only the most consistent team out of the five will stand above the rest on the final day.
Humble Liverpool fans will be pleased to just be a part of it whilst the old school optimist will surely be backing Klopp’s side to win it, either way, this title race will take some time before it’s decided.