The sun was shining, Liverpool were back in control of their destiny of Champions League qualification and finally it was time to score against Southampton this season. Three games. 270 minutes. No goals. 90 minutes later and Liverpool still hadn’t made a mark on the scoresheet.
It was another afternoon at Anfield were Liverpool were forced to break down a resolute defence and they failed. James Milner should have given the Reds the boost they needed from the penalty spot but he was thwarted by Fraser Forster.
Much criticism has been thrown at both the players and of Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp with how he managed the game. His substitutions of Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge, very soon after the penalty miss, were deemed to be too late by fans.
It seems to be something of a common occurrence that Klopp reacts slowly when the game is not going as planned. This can be read in a number of ways, one in which he has faith that the players on the pitch will get the job done or another, that he is just misjudging the situation.
Let’s be honest, would I be sitting here writing this article if James Milner had slotted the penalty away and Liverpool had gone on to win the game 1-0?
The answer is clearly no but before the penalty decision Liverpool hadn’t looked like breaking the deadlock at any point during the game.
It was clear as soon as the two players came on that the game changed completely with a quickening of the pace and higher intensity which looked to have Southampton more worried than they had been at any stage of the proceedings before their introductions.
Should Adam Lallana have started?
Adam Lallana returned from injury against Watford last Monday and was introduced to the action much earlier than expected when Philippe Coutinho went down with an injury and couldn’t continue.
After over a month on the side-line the return would have been a shock to the system for Lallana. The Premier League is the most intense league in the world and Lallana's all-action play style means he doesn’t allow himself much rest during a game.
The large number of minutes played was probably the reason Klopp decided to leave the former Southampton man on the bench for the visit of Claude Puel’s men and continuing with the midfield three of Lucas Leiva, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum.
Rather unsurprisingly the midfield trio struggled to propel Liverpool forward and create clear cut opportunities with all three not known as creative midfielders and it showed with too many passes that allowed Southampton to retain their shape and not expose them.
When introduced, Lallana enhanced Liverpool’s performance with his quick touches and dynamic passing which caused Southampton problems but ultimately the change was too little too late and fans were left with the feeling that a switch at half time or even ten minutes more could have turned the game on its head.
Does Sturridge deserve more time on the pitch?
Klopp is also carefully handling Daniel Sturridge so that he can contribute to Liverpool’s run in. Klopp indicated before Sunday’s game that Sturridge was still not at a level he thought was possible to start a game.
It’s why Klopp ultimately stuck with Divock Origi who had before Southampton started Liverpool’s last five game after to coming off the bench to seal victory in the 3-1 Merseyside Derby victory over Everton at the beginning of April.
Origi initially began the spell of games with composed performances against Bournemouth, Stoke (in difficult circumstances) and West Brom including a goal in the 2-2 draw with Bournemouth.
Since then however Origi has struggled which has coincided with Liverpool’s struggles in front of goal. The Belgian has lacked movement, confidence, and sharpness in recent weeks and has arguably looked disinterested as well.
Fans were hoping for a Sturridge return to the starting line up ahead of the game against Southampton but Klopp kept faith in Origi and continued with the same line up which struggled to break down Watford and there was no real change from Monday to Sunday.
However, in keeping Sturridge on the bench for games it is leaving the player too little time to impact the game as much as he possibly could have. Both against Watford and on Sunday, Sturridge created good opportunities for himself and other players which nearly forced the ball into the back of the net.
The line-up against Southampton was one that was probably two defensive for a home game against a team who you always knew were going to sit back and defend their 18-yard box.
Klopp probably should have looked to gamble and win the game with Sturridge and Lallana from the off before replacing them later on with hopefully goals already in the bag.
That is the ideal scenario of course and Lallana and Sturridge starting may have had no effect on the result with them having to be replaced and not complete the full game.
Klopp will probably feel he was right to leave both players on the bench because they did have a significant impact on the game and raised the tempo but it was a case of a little too late as Southampton grew in confidence as the game wore on and were buoyed by Forster’s penalty save.
Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham suffered through a similar half away at Crystal Palace a couple of weeks ago but instead of waiting, like Klopp on Sunday, he forced the initiative and made two half time substitutions to try and influence the game.
Klopp used this against Stoke when Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho were introduced at half time and led Liverpool’s 2-1 comeback. A similar managerial decision from Klopp could have had the same impact with the introduction of Lallana and Sturridge possibly changing the game helping Liverpool almost certainly guarantee themselves Champions League football for next season.
As it was, it was another afternoon that won’t be remembered and means Liverpool have to win both of their final two games to cement their top four place. Will we see Lallana and Sturridge from the off against West Ham? You’d like to think so.