In a very interesting Premier League match on Saturday at Anfield, Liverpool beat Southampton by 3-1. Roberto Firmino broke the deadlock after just over five minutes, but Che Adams cancelled it out only three minutes later. Nonetheless, Darwin Nunez struck twice, in the 21st and the 42nd minute, to secure the points for the home side.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has been experimenting with various formations this season as
he seeks to arrest the slump and lead the team up the ladder, and it seems on this occasion he got it spot on with a 4-4-2 diamond. Following a couple of great performances after a long injury, Ibrahima Konate was given the weekend off as he prepares to go represent France at the World Cup, so it was Joe Gomez who played alongside Virgil van Dijk at the back, with Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the flanks. Fabinho was the defensive midfielder, with Thiago Alcantara on the left and Harvey Elliott on the right, while Roberto Firmino played at the tip, just behind the attacking duo of Nunez and Mohamed Salah.
For Southampton, new boss Nathan Jones picked a 3-4-1-2 shape, with the trio of Mohammed Salisu, Duje Caleta-Car and Armel Bella-Kotchap at the back, the pair of Romeo Lavia and James Ward-Prowse in the middle of the park flanked by Romain Perraud on the left and Mohamed Elyounoussi on the right, and Stuart Armstrong supporting Che Adams and Adam Armstrong upfront.
Liverpool expectedly dominated the statistical side of things, with 60% possession and a total of 15 shots compared to Southampton’s nine. They were obviously the better team and that alone makes their victory deserved. The Reds could’ve scored even more goals, but it should also be said that the Saints had a fair number of chances of their own at the other end, and the affair could certainly have ended differently had the visitors been luckier in several moments.
Speaking of chances created and wasted at either end, goalkeepers Gavin Bazunu and Alisson Becker deserve high praise for their individual performances, making four saves each.
Bazunu was far more challenged in the first half, and denying both Salah in the 16th minute, after a brilliant Darwin Nunez cross, really took some quality, just like it did in the 30th when Nunez flicked a back-heel pass towards Firmino on the six-yard line, and the 20-year-old ‘keeper pulled out another piece of magic to deny the Brazilian. There was nothing the former Manchester City youngster could do for any of the three shots that found their way into the net.
On the other hand, Alisson was caught in no-man’s land for Adams’s equalizer, but it should be said that his defenders allowed the Southampton striker to make his run far too easily, as well as that the set-piece delivery for the goal was worthy of Ward-Prowse’s reputation for that sort of thing. But the Brazil international certainly made up for the potential mistake in the second half, denying Elyounoussi in the 62nd and substitute Samuel Edozie a minute later, both from close range and very favourable positions. But the best save of the game came in the 77th minute, when Ainsley Maitland-Niles, another Southampton substitute, whipped in an inch-perfect cross for Adams to head goalwards and Alisson showed incredible reflexes to stop it going in.
With another two goals on his account, Nunez continues to defy the hasty criticism which had him practically written off as a €100 million flop after the incident which saw him sent off against Crystal Palace early in the season. The Uruguay international now has a total of nine goals and two assists during 941 minutes spent on the pitch, making him directly involved in a goal every 105 minutes. Had it not been for the two outstanding Bazunu saves, he would’ve bagged two assists as well in this match and improved his goal involvement record further.
For comparison, Gabriel Jesus, who has been labelled as a hugely successful transfer for Arsenal, has produced a goal involvement every 291 minutes, and England captain Harry Kane has been scoring or assisting every 149 minutes. Of all the strikers in the Premier League, only Manchester City sensation Erling Haaland has a better ratio at 60 minutes between goal involvements on average.
Meanwhile, Nunez works tirelessly in defence as well, and it’s not surprising at all to see him chase down opposition attacks right into his own box when needed, closing down a flank in a proper fullback manner or clearing a cross like a centre-back. His commitment on the pitch is unquestionable, as is his talent on the ball. There have been some glaring chances he ended up missing through the season, but once his composure in those situation reaches the level required, the 23-year-old will be one of the most complete forwards in the modern game.
Is he a proper replacement for Sadio Mane? Probably not, not yet anyway, not in the sense that he can walk into the team and produce the same effect. The incredible Senegalese attacker was a huge part of everything Liverpool achieved over his six years at Anfield, with 120 goals and 49 assists in 269 appearances in all competitions. Nunez obviously has a long, long way to go before he’s considered anywhere near as influential and successful at the club, but the start is certainly encouraging.
There’s no real need to waste words trying to describe the effect James Milner has had on Premier League football over the last 20 years. Yes, it’s been full two decades since Mr. Versatility earned his first-team promotion at Leeds United, being only 16 at the time.
Fast forward to November 2022, and 36-year-old Milner came on to replace 19-year-old Harvey Elliott in the 58th minute of the Southampton clash, thus entering a very exclusive “Club 600”. There have been only three players in the history of the competition who played more matches in the English top flight, but “Milly” is likely to overtake Chelsea legend Frank Lampard soon, and he could go on to edge out Manchester United icon Ryan Giggs as well, if he signs another 12-month contract extension next summer. It’s not very likely he’ll be able to beat Gareth Barry at the top.
World Cup’s loss?
There has been one surprise exclusion from the lists of players set to travel to Qatar involving Liverpool and Southampton each. A lot has been said about Brazil coach Tite picking Tottenham Hotspur forward Richarlison, while leaving Firmino out. There will always be a debate over whether Firmino deserves to start over Jesus for his country, but to leave him out from the squad completely defies all logic, to be perfectly honest. The 31-year-old has nine goals and four assists in 21 appearances in all competitions this term, while Richarlison, for example, has two goals and three assists in 15 matches and has had only five league starts for Antonio Conte’s team.
There are many top-level forwards in the game, but very few of them offer the same things as Firmino – most notably unbelievable selflessness and willingness to work for the team, on top of his formidable skill on the ball and creative ideas on the pitch. After all, people like Pep Guardiola, Thierry Henry and Antoine Griezmann, on top of numerous other football names, have been known to speak most highly of the popular “Bobby” Firmino.
Similarly, it will have come as a great disappointment for Ward-Prowse to be left out by Gareth Southgate for England. The Southampton captain is a vital cog in his team, doing practically everything a complete midfielder at this level is supposed to do. Competition for the places in the World Cup squad was always going to be fierce, but Kalvin Phillips, who was called up, has spent most of the season so far on the treatment table and has only made four appearances for Manchester City in all competitions, none from the start. Surely it made more sense to give that spot to Ward-Prowse instead, but then, Southgate’s lines of thinking were never really straightforward.
Be that as it may, the World Cup will arguably be slightly less interesting without Liverpool’s
No. 9 and Southampton’s No. 8.
Leaving the tournament in Qatar aside until it comes, this victory has seen Liverpool climb over Chelsea and Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League table. They are now sixth with 22 points, and though it’s still pretty much ridiculous to talk about the title race, it could prove a huge step in the right direction when their efforts to finish inside the top four are concerned. Several important players, most notably forwards Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota, should be back after the break, and Klopp will have to find a way not let his team’s motivation waver again. Consistency, as always, will be the key.
As for Southampton, not even the most optimistic among their supporters will have expected them to get anything from the Anfield trip. As for Liverpool, the break will be welcome for Jones, as he seeks to implement his tactical ideas at his new club, and that obviously takes a lot of work and a lot of time. Be that as it may, Southampton are now in the relegation zone, sitting second from the wrong end of the table on just 12 points. The good news from their point of view is that there are four teams directly above, namely Nottingham Forest, Everton, West Ham and Leeds United, all within a three-point reach, and that there is a long way to go yet.
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