Jurgen Klopp met The Alpine Klopp as Liverpool edge towards title glory.
Klopp set up his side in their usual 4-3-3 formation, making one change to the team that beat West Ham in mid-week. Fabinho came in for Divock Origi, with Jordan Henderson moving up into the higher midfield spot and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain moving out to the left wing.
Ralph Hasenhuttl lined up his team in their usual 4-2-2-2/4-4-2 shape.
Southampton pressed high up the pitch and Liverpool had two ways of working around this. One involved trying to pass around the press by outnumbering Southampton’s first line of pressure. Fabinho would drop back alongside the centre-backs and they also made use of Alisson Becker’s comfort with his feet, leaving Danny Ings and Shane Long with four men to cover between them. Nathan Redmond would move up to press in support of the strikers, however he didn’t always do an excellent job of curving his run to cut off the pass into Trent Alexander-Arnold, giving Liverpool an easy pass out from the back and often forcing Ryan Bertrand to come rushing out of the backline to close him down.
One of Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum would also drop back to just in front of the defence, forcing one of the forwards to either adjust their position to stop the easy ball out into midfield or dragging one of Southampton’s midfielders up the pitch to deal with him. No matter what Liverpool seemed to be able to find a free man and play out.
Liverpool’s other way of beating Southampton’s press was simply to hit the ball over the top of them. Southampton could be dragged up the pitch to press, so one of Henderson or Wijnaldum would make a run forward to join the attack, leaving Southampton four-against-four at the back. With Liverpool always able to find a spare man at the back and all of them capable of picking out an accurate long pass, they could send dangerous balls forward to their attackers to fight for in Southampton’s half.
Southampton defended well though. They would drop off quickly to ensure Liverpool’s attackers couldn’t get one-on-one with Alex McCarthy and were unafraid to make tactical fouls to slow down Liverpool and give themselves the chance to regroup.
Despite Liverpool having control over the match, Southampton also looked threatening. Many of their early attacks were simply long balls up to Long and Liverpool didn’t find it difficult to win the second balls, however they also played quick passes in behind for the forwards to chase. Liverpool dealt with most of these comfortably, but when they did make mistakes – Andy Robertson missing his interception or Joe Gomez dawdling with his clearance – Southampton were onto the ball quickly to snatch shots at goal.
Liverpool ended up taking the lead immediately after half-time though. Moussa Djenepo was slow to track back and Oriol Romeu was dragged back to help the defenders, so when former Saint Oxlade-Chamberlain picked up the ball on the edge of the area, there was no one to stop him from cutting inside and firing a shot in at the near post.
Little changed before the second went in. Liverpool sent a long ball forward, Southampton returned it, and Liverpool sent it back long again. Southampton’s backline barely had the time to turn to face Liverpool before they were having to turn again to defend the long ball, making it easy for Roberto Firmino to pick up the ball in behind them and play the ball square to Henderson to finish.
Southampton hadn’t done much wrong yet now found themselves with a mountain to climb. Seemingly resigned to losing, Hasenhuttl didn’t change much, simply switching out his forwards.
Liverpool soon added the third with another long ball forward. Bertrand had been dragged forward, so Henderson made a run in behind him and dinked the ball over the top of Southampton’s defence. Jan Bednarek missed his interception, putting Mohamed Salah clean through on goal to finish.
Their fourth and final goal was a simple counter-attack. Salah and Firmino combined to put the goal in the net despite being outnumbered by Southampton’s defenders.
Liverpool solved the puzzle of Southampton’s press easily, however through their defensive nous and direct running the Saints put up a good fight in the first half. A minor mistake was pounced upon by Liverpool though and that was it for Southampton, who never looked capable of getting back on level terms.
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