17/08/2014: Liverpool 2-1 Saints
Saints lost their first game of the season at Anfield, but ran Liverpool close. The visitors performed much better than expected, and showed that there is still plenty of quality within the team.
Ronald Koeman brought Morgan Schneiderlin back into the starting eleven. The Frenchman mainly sat alongside Victor Wanyama in the middle. James Ward-Prowse started in a more advanced role in the centre, with Steven Davis tucked in on the right.
Liverpool's flowing football that won so many plaudits last season was nowhere to be seen. The home side were restricted to long range efforts early on. Saints were happy to let Liverpool have the ball in their own half, and were well organised at the back when the home side were on the front foot.
Raheem Sterling had the first major effort on target, shooting straight at Fraser Forster. Simon Mignolet suffered a nervous moment a minute later from a Saints corner. Sterling had Liverpool ahead on 23 minutes. The forward got beyond the Southampton back four from Jordan Henderson's long pass before slotting past Forster inside the area.
Saints were slightly tentative going forward in the first half, but still created a few half-chances. Ward-Prowse nearly caught out the keeper on 34 minutes from a deep free-kick. The same player then placed a weak shot straight at the Mignolet. Schneiderlin also had a shot tipped over just before the break.
Saints pushed Liverpool back into their own half after the interval, adopting a more positive approach. The visitors took control of possession with some good patient build up play. The chances took a while to come, but Saints were eventually rewarded on 56 minutes. Nathaniel Clyne played the ball into Dusan Tadic on the edge of the area, before continuing his run into the box. Tadic back-heeled the ball through Dejan Lovren's legs with his back to goal, allowing Clyne to smash into the roof of the net.
The away side really should have been ahead on 62. Davis squandered a great chance, firing low straight at Mignolet from Ward-Prowse's cut-back. A few seconds later Saints came close to replicating their early goal, with Clyne and Tadic combining brilliantly again.
Liverpool started to come back into it during the final 20 minutes. Rickie Lambert received a warm welcome from both sets of fans on his introduction as expected. He looked to be in for a great chance, before Clyne made a last ditch block. The Reds were back in front on 79. Sterling leapt beyond Davis, nodding the ball to Daniel Sturridge, who gently guided it into the corner of the net from close range.
Saints came agonisingly close to finding a leveller on 88. Schneiderlin hammered the ball against the bar inside the area from Pelle's knock-down. Shane Long headed wide under pressure from Glen Johnson on the rebound.
No points, but plenty of encouragement for Koeman to take into the rest of the season. Saints made Liverpool look fairly ordinary. The Anfield side steamed through teams last season, but weren't able to get much rhythm going on this occasion. That was largely down to the work the visitors put in in their own half. Saints were very well drilled defensively. Going forward Saints never strayed from their footballing principles, keeping the ball on the floor throughout with purposeful play.
Koeman's men just lacked a bit of decisiveness in the final third. Saints did create enough chances to get something from the game, but that clinical decision making in front of goal was still slightly lacking. It would be dangerous to draw too many conclusions early into the season, but on evidence of this showing, Saints still have a lot going for them.
Forster: 6. Dealt with crosses fairly well. Quite a big presence. Kicking reasonably good
Clyne: 7. A difficult one to grade. Unusually sloppy in the first-half, with a few mistakes. More than made up for it in the 2nd half. A threat going forward and equally impressive at the back
Fonte: 7. Made a few minor errors early on, but mostly very good. Alert to Liverpool's through balls
Yoshida: 7. Generally did well. Some great interceptions
Bertrand: 7. Solid defensively and some energetic runs going forward
Wanyama: 8. Made some big tackles. Helped disrupt the flow of Liverpool's game.
Schneiderlin: 7. Lack of match practise only slightly noticeable. Kept things ticking in midfield with a good range of passing
Ward-Prowse: 7. Pressed well, and some good set pieces. Decision making in the final third poor in the first half, but better after the break
Davis: 5. Passable. Took a while to get going, but did put in some decent defensive work. Should have scored though, and lost his man in the build up for the second Liverpool goal
Tadic: 7. Worked hard and made things difficult for Liverpool. Showcased a great first touch, and provided a classy assist for Clyne
Pelle: 6. Took up some good positions and used his body to good effect at times. Not everything he tried came off, but a definite improvement
Long: 5. Involved a couple of times near goal. Headed chance at the end more difficult that it looked
Isgrove: Some decent touches for the Premier League debutant
Liverpool - Sterling (23) Sturridge (79)
Saints - Clyne (56)
Attendance: 44,736 (1,813 Saints fans)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Lovren, Manquillo, Lucas (Allen 63), Henderson, Gerrard, Coutinho (Lambert 76), Sterling, Sturridge
Subs not used: Jones, Toure, Sakho, Can, Ibe
Saints: Forster, Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Bertrand, Wanyama, Schneiderlin, Ward-Prowse, S Davis (Isgrove 82), Tadic (Long 73), Pelle
Subs not used: K Davis, Taider, Cork, Hooiveld, Stephens