Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Liverpool started out sluggishly, were punished immediately, looked dead on their feet for the better part of an hour, spurned some major opportunities, and failed to mount a comeback, dropping points in another frustrating outing.
Below, we try to look for interesting perspectives in what has quickly become a gloomily predictable trend.
Super Sadio: Not many Reds can walk off the pitch claiming they had a good performance tonight, but Sadio Mane is the exception, and was once again the best of the bunch in Jürgen Klopp’s side.
Despite not being awarded any of the penalties he earned, and despite not getting the goal he deserved, the Senegalese attacker put in yet another all-round performance, and as jumbled as the Liverpool attack was, anything it produced in the positive column came courtesy of Mané.
Sadio had the most shots (four), dribbles (five), and tackles (six) of any player on the pitch, added two shot assists to his tally, and tormented Kyle Walker-Peters all night, with the Southampton defender fortunate not to give away a pair of spot kicks, courtesy of an abysmal Andre Marriner.
Target Practice: Getting 16 shots, 12 of which come from inside the area, is typically not indicative of a particularly bad night on offense, but when your attackers can only manage a single effort on target from those shots, alarm bells must go off.
Southampton did well to block shots and disrupt attackers in vital moments, but the Reds’ profligacy largely came down to snatching at chances or being forced into awkward positions by lackluster final passes. Whether it is tired legs, lack of confidence, or pure coincidence, the fact of the matter is that the strike force that made it all look so easy against Crystal Palace just two weeks ago have now produced a single goal from their last 44 shots and 4.3 expected goals, missing six consecutive clear cut chances in the process.
If this season is to be anything resembling a success, some stability in this department must arrive sharpish.
Andre Marriner: We really, really don’t enjoy talking about referees here, but tonight’s officiating group had an absolute nightmare, the sort of which needs to come with repercussions. Danny Ings’ opener came after a wrongfully awarded free kick, and although Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold conspired to make that free kick into an opportunity for their former team-mate, they should never have had to deal with it at all.
At the other end, Marriner routinely disregarded Southampton offenses, with Walker-Peters’ sliding foul on Sadio Mané the most glaring, but the fullback was also allowed to drape himself over his opponent at the edge of the area without any consequence, and Jack Stephens blocked a goal-bound shot with his hand well extended from his body, in a manner that has been penalised a dozen times this season. None of these events merited any substantial VAR review.
The match ended with Southampton penalised five times to Liverpool’s 12, despite the Reds having 67% of possession, a strong indicator that the match was not officiated evenly.
Ox: It’s been close to three years since Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was forced off the pitch against Roma with a serious knee injury. It has been at least a year since he put on a performance even resembling the dynamic player he looked like at that time.
Yes, Ox is working his way back from injury, which could theoretically go a long way to explaining why his touch is so off, his decision making is so poor, and his energy seems so low, but that has been a constant process for going on 75% of his career at Anfield, and there is a chance fans will have to reckon with the idea that the player whose work we enjoyed so much back in those nascent days of 2017/18 simply isn’t in there anymore.
What Happens Next
It’s Time for Yutes on Friday, as the Reds travel to Aston Villa in an absolutely meaningless FA Cup match, and hopefully Jürgen Klopp will make sure his senior players are allowed ample recuperation in the coming two weeks, as Liverpool will host second placed Manchester United on Sunday 13 days from now.
This is a rare opportunity in a preposterously busy season to get legitimate recovery done, and the manager needs to grasp the chances with both hands.