Jurgen Klopp set Liverpool up with an unusual gameplan against Southampton. It’s one that had a real problem, however, particularly in the first half.
Few predicted Jordan Henderson and Fabinho to be a centre-half pairing for Liverpool this season. Yet that’s what we saw as the Reds played at Southampton on Monday.
The reviews won’t look back kindly, though. Liverpool lost the game 1-0 after conceding an early Danny Ings goal.
And overall, Liverpool were dreadful in the first half. They got better in the second but that first 45 was one of their worst showings of the season.
The gameplan just didn’t work. There were two midfielders in defence but they simply couldn’t cope with Southampton’s press. But why? On paper, it should have been fine.
Subscribe to Rousing The Kop TV now
To us, there was an obvious reason.
Almost as notable as the defensive pairing was the midfield trio – Thiago, Gini Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
That’s two players just back from injury and Wijnaldum. Again, on paper, they work. They looked okay in the second half, certainly.
But in the first half, they were overly cautious. They just didn’t match Southampton’s press and we’d include the full-backs in the guilty party here.
They sat back often and tried not to expose Henderson and Fabinho. Unfortunately, that led to the exact exposure they tried to avoid.
Southampton could pick passes in behind and controlled the game over that initial 45. The Reds just didn’t pressure them in an effort to feel solid.
The result was two midfielders having their positional sense in defence questioned constantly. It was found lacking – but that would always be the case. They’re not natural defenders, after all.
There are strengths to having midfielders in defence. They can press with energy and reduce space for attackers on the counter. They will be more than comfortable with the ball on the halfway line, too.
It’s all very high-risk but you have to roll with that. You’re playing midfielders in defence – embrace that.
But all of that only works if you’re on the front foot and attacking your opponents. Otherwise, you’re asking them to sweep up balls in behind and mark attackers traditionally – things they aren’t good at.
Liverpool’s caution cost them, then. By the time they’d corrected things, Southampton were in full defensive mode and only needed to do it for 45 minutes.
It doesn’t mean Klopp has to throw the plan away because it failed against Southampton, though. It can work but needs some adjustments. Hopefully, next time, it’s ready to go from the start.
For five things we learned in the game, click here.