Liverpool lined up for this game in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation with Iago Aspas behind Daniel Sturridge while Victor Moses and Jordan Henderson played on the wings.
Lucas Llieva and Steven Gerrard sat in front of a peculiar back four chosen by Brendan Rodgers made up of four centre backs in Kolo Toure, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Mahmadou Sakho, while Simon Mignolet started between the post.
Southampton on the other hand lined up closer to a 4-4-1-1 with Pablo Osvaldo and Rickie Lambert ready to switch positions up front, two offensive wingers in Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez with Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama giving protection in front of the back four.
Presumably the four centre-backs were chosen by Rodgers as a response to an offensive ‘front four’ from Southampton.
This move seemed to backfire, as Southampton’s front four together with Schneiderlin were applying a very high pressing game onto Liverpool’s back four, not giving them time and space to play the ball forward.
Both Toure and Sakho were finding it difficult to act as full-backs and move forward. As a result Liverpool were squeezed into their third and most of the time had to play the ball back to Mignolet as the sole option to keep the ball.
With five players involved in high pressing, Southampton had to deal with the lack of men behind the ball.
They did this incredibly well, by keeping a tight line of defence protected by an excellent Wanyama.
This, coupled with Liverpool’s front men movement in the hole between defence and midfield, resulted in quite a number of fouls being committed just outside the area, of which Gerrard forced Artur Boruc into making two very good saves.
Southampton had to have their centre-backs alert to shuffle quickly and give cover to their full-backs to prevent 1v1 situations which Moses was looking for on Liverpool’s left and which might be the reason for having introduced Sterling in the second half.
In effect, Moses had the highest number of dribbles (6) with Sterling having 3 dribbles in 45 minutes while Southampton’s full-back Nathan Clyne had the highest number of tackles (13) (stats taken from www.whoscored.com).
The first substitution was to remove Aspas and put Sterling in. Now the introduction of Sterling made perfect sense because of the situation explained earlier, however with the removal of Aspas, Liverpool lost a key player who was the only player able to quickly catch Southampton’s defenders out of position.
Jose Enrique then got in for Agger with Sakho taking a more familiar central position and increasing a threat on the side. In order to cover for this move, Pochettino put in Steven Davis for Lambert, thereby increasing the number of midfielders and the protection to his full-backs.
In his last move, Rodgers put in Luis Alberto for Skrtel who played behind Sturridge while Henderson slotted in the right-back position.
Southampton’s manager on the other hand removed both his wingers and introduced fresh players in James Ward-Prowse and Jack Cork in order to help them see the game through and be able to counter attack, considering that both Lallana and Rodriguez were playing at high intensity for the whole game.
Rodgers over-cautious approach seemed to have worked against him as Southampton pinned his four centre-backs in their own third.
On the other hand, Southampton seemed to have a perfect plan in defending all areas of the pitch, however seemed to lack strategy in attacking, possibly as they themselves were lacking the push of their full-backs.
Having said that, Southampton risked on the flanks and committed fouls outside the area but they escaped unpunished.
Liverpool felt the lack of Philippe Coutinho and Glen Johnson in particular as they would have probably increased their zest in attack and flair.
However, one needs to check out how Rodgers will develop their play along the season as they seemed to hit a brick wall when they could not mix it up to get out of their own half efficiently.
It would also be interesting to see how Luis Suarez will be teaming up with the in-form Sturridge upfront. With Liverpool facing Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday, Rodgers will be looking for an instant response from his thwarted stars.
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