Friday 9 December 2016

Liverpool frustrated as gutsy Saints hold on for draw

Southampton 0 Liverpool 0

Stuart James

Published 20/11/2016 | 02:30

Southampton’s Oriol Romeu and Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum battle for possession
Southampton’s Oriol Romeu and Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum battle for possession

Liverpool continue to enjoy the view from the top of the Premier League, but everything would have looked so much better for Jurgen Klopp and his players if they had shown the same ruthless touch in front of goal that had carried them to the summit. Instead, they will leave the south coast ruing the missed opportunities that allowed Southampton to escape with a point from a game that Liverpool controlled.

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Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Saido Mane, that exhilarating attacking trident, were not quite able to deliver when it mattered and there was no escaping the frustration on Klopp's face. Southampton defended resolutely at times and Fraser Forster made a couple of excellent saves, in particular in the first half when he denied Mane a goal on his return to St Mary's.

A soaked Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp reacts after the final whistle during the match at St Mary's Stadium, Southampton. Photo: Nick Potts/PA
A soaked Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp reacts after the final whistle during the match at St Mary's Stadium, Southampton. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

Nathaniel Clyne, one of five players to swap Southampton for Liverpool in recent times, had a wonderful chance to win the game for Liverpool nine minutes from time, when he arrived at the far post to meet Daniel Sturridge's deep cross, but the England international headed wide.

The game had been something of a slow-burner. Liverpool dominated possession early on and there were long, controlled passages of play when it felt as though the visitors had an extra man on the pitch. Yet Liverpool were not hurting Southampton initially, at least not until just before the half-hour mark, when Klopp's team registered their first attempt on goal and came so close to taking the lead.

Coutinho, who was declared fit despite reporting back from international duty with a tight hamstring, picked out Clyne in space on the right. Clyne's low centre was only half cleared to the edge of the area, where Georginio Wijnaldum seized on the loose ball and released Mane. Striking the ball first time, Mane could not have connected any sweeter, but Forster flicked the ball over the bar with his fingertips.

The same two Liverpool players combined again later in the half, when Mane tore into the penalty area and bore down on the Southampton goal. A breakthrough beckoned, but just as he pulled the trigger, Virgil van Dijk slid across to make a superbly timed block.

Southampton's Jose Fonte and Charlie Austin in action with Liverpool's Roberto Firmino. Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters
Southampton's Jose Fonte and Charlie Austin in action with Liverpool's Roberto Firmino. Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters

Southampton offered little threat at the other end. Sofiane Boufal was peripheral and Charlie Austin looked isolated at times. The striker escaped in the inside right channel just before half-time but a promising position came to nothing.

The pattern of the game remained the same in the second half, with Liverpool setting the tempo and Van Dijk fortunate not to be punished for tugging Firmino's shirt. Firmino was furious that play was allowed to carry on and, although the offence looked to have taken place just outside the area, Van Dijk would have been in trouble if the referee, Mark Clattenburg, had spotted it.

Liverpool, however, had only themselves to blame for the profligacy that followed. Coutinho, set free by Firmino after Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg had carelessly given away the ball, sliced wide with only Forster to beat. Jose Fonte, in fairness, had made up plenty of ground to put Coutinho under pressure, but it was still a position from which the Brazilian would have expected to score.

The same was true for the golden opportunity that Firmino squandered in the 66th minute, with Coutinho this time the provider. The darting runs from Mane and Wijnaldum opened up space for Firmino, who was beautifully found by Coutinho's measured pass, yet the striker steered a low shot inches wide.

Southampton were pinned in, with their attacking threat confined to the rare breakaway. Yet one of those fleeting glimpses of Southampton pushing forward did almost yield a goal. Cedric Soares crossed from the right and Austin climbed above Clyne, but headed wide.

Klopp introduced Daniel Sturridge from the bench and that change nearly paid off when the forward crossed for Clyne, who headed beyond the far post. (Observer)

 

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