Saints' four match unbeaten run came to an end yesterday, with Liverpool securing a reasonably comfortable 1-0 win at Anfield. The home side dominated possession, but couldn't kill the game off until the final whistle. Saints were strong in defence, but created little at the other end of the pitch.
Rickie Lambert had the first chance of the game, firing wide after 2 minutes. That was one of only a handful of opportunities created by Saints. Liverpool soon took control of the contest. On 9 minutes Luis Suarez fizzed the ball across goal, with Glen Johnson unable to connect with the cross. Liverpool tried to stretch Saints, attacking from out wide, with Raheem Sterling utilising his pace. The visitors offered little going forward. Saints played too many long balls in the first 20 minutes, which just handed the initiative back to Liverpool. Adkins' men attempted to play a shorter game later in the half, but struggled to cope with the home side's pressing. Saints were well organised in defence, with the midfield constantly tracking back to protect the excellent back four. Suarez looked like he was about to replicate his Newcastle goal, bringing a long ball down before rounding Paulo Gazzaniga. Jose Fonte and Maya Yoshida were there to see the ball out of play, however. On 35 minutes Lambert struck a free-kick just past the post. From the resulting goal-kick Liverpool completed a swift move through the pitch, which resulted in Jonjo Shelvey hitting angle of the post. Just when it looked as if Saints had dealt with the Liverpool threat, the home side were able to break the deadlock just before half-time. Luis Suarez rattled the crossbar from a free-kick on the edge of the area, with Glen Johnson picking up the rebound before crossing for Daniel Agger, who headed in for 1-0. There was just enough time for Lambert to fire a dipping shot, which was tipped wide by Pepe Reina.
Saints were a bit more positive at the start of the second half, with Jason Puncheon firing a deflected shot wide on 48 minutes. The visitors had the ball in the Liverpool half for extended periods, but failed to break through in the final third. Saints just weren't quick enough in possession. The away side mixed it up too, but all the long balls were comfortably dealt with by Agger and Skrtel. Gaston Ramirez blasted a long range shot over the bar, in what was a rare chance. Liverpool did most of the pressing, but couldn't quite find that second goal. The returning Lucas Leiva made a massive difference for the Reds. He dictated play in the middle of the park; controlling the game. Sterling and Suarez had chances to wrap it up, but while there was still only one goal in it the game remained in the balance. Liverpool looked nervous towards the end, with a number of players misplacing passes. You sensed Saints could nick something at the death, but that killer chance never arrived unfortunately.
A bit of a reversal of our early season form. Saints were set up very well from a defensive point of view, but offered very little going forward. Jose Fonte and Maya Yoshida were excellent, and were aided superbly by the rest of their team. The cautious approach meant we were reluctant to commit bodies forward until near the end of the game, however. Saints caught Liverpool on a day when they were at their very best. As mentioned above Lucas made a huge difference. If the Brazilian stays fit for the rest of the season, Liverpool should be on for a top 8 finish at the very least. This was no major disaster for Saints. It was a game few realistic observers could have expected us to get anything out of. We could afford to budget for a loss in this one. The real test for us comes in the next two home games against Reading and Sunderland.
Gazzaniga: 7. Didn't do a lot wrong. Handling and positioning very good
Clyne: 7. Did a decent job up against Sterling and co, won most tackles
Fonte: 8. Back to his very best. Timing and decision making spot on
Yoshida: 8. Calm under pressure. Some superb defensive work
Shaw: 7. Defensively solid, didn't offer quite so much going forward
Schneiderlin: 7. Made a number of important clearances and interceptions
Cork: 7. Swept up in front of the back four very well
Puncheon: 6. Tracked back to help Clyne with great effect, but offered precious little going forward
Lallana: 7. Looked the most likely to make something happen for Saints. As impressing with his quick feet, Lallana did the ugly part of the game well, defending from the front
Ramirez: 6. Constantly ran into trouble in the first half. Better in the second, but still unable to unlock the Liverpool defence
Lambert: 6. Difficult game for the striker, who once again was given no protection by the referee. Failed to win the physical battle against Skrtel and Agger
Davis: 6. Steady midfield display
Rodriguez: Didn't really offer a lot