Wednesday 23 August 2017

Liverpool in spot of bother after Milner miss

Liverpool 0 Southampton 0

Liverpool's James Milner has his penalty saved by Southampton's Fraser Forster. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Liverpool's James Milner has his penalty saved by Southampton's Fraser Forster. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Ian Herbert

Jurgen Klopp offered a miscellany of reasons for the stalemate which means the Champions League spot which seemed so likely when Liverpool reached late December in second place, with seven more goals than anyone else, will now go to the wire.

The pitch was too dry, slowing the speed of the ball, he said. The Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster did not behave "as a sportsman should" with an elaborate act of gamesmanship before making his first Premier League penalty save against James Milner, who had not missed one for eight years.

In the final reckoning, though, Liverpool simply lacked the creative spark to break through the unambitious drudgery of a Southampton side against whom they have failed to muster a single goal in 360 minutes of football this season.

There was something deeply unattractive about Claude Puel's side, whose campaign was effectively over, providing such meagre ambition as this, though teams with Champions League pretensions should cut through. The muscularity Klopp has added since the turn of the year has been to the detriment of the creativity. It can only have compounded the private agony for the manager that Daniel Sturridge, still only fit for a cameo role, offered a fleeting reminder of what he might have brought to the team's game all these months.

His sublime spin around his marker into the six-yard box and rapier shot into the side-netting were the closest to electricity Liverpool got, when he arrived in the last 20 minutes, Yet the Englishman's days in this city surely seem over this summer. The Sturridge medical drama has been too long-running for any other outcome.

The contribution both he and Adam Lallana made in Klopp's dual substitution after the penalty controversy - which saw Forster put a divot of turf on the penalty spot, stand over Milner and whisper sweet nothings in his ear - left you wondering where the pair had been for the previous 70 minutes.

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge in action with Southampton's Steven Davis. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge in action with Southampton's Steven Davis. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Unlocking

It was self-evident that unlocking the door was going to be the problem. Klopp might have shown more creative ambition by starting the game with Lallana, at least.

There was little ingenuity to surprise the men Puel banked behind the goal: too much sideways movement and very little of the lateral variety. Liverpool were awarded their 'advanced level quality standard' by the Premier League at half-time and they certainly did not earn it on the pitch. Klopp has introduced a durability to the side which makes them far more utilitarian than the fast-flowing side who flourished in the season's early months but there are times when they seem side lack enough belief in their rearguard to burst forward in numbers. They miss the injured Sadio Mane. Though Forster also saved sharply from third substitute Marko Grujic at the death, Klopp's players were generally limited to shooting from range.

Southampton brought physicality. Romeu took Firmino out in the first half's closing moments and Manolo Gabbiadini sent Joel Matip tumbling over the Liverpool by-line. The game was bad-tempered at times. Klopp sent a water bottle flying after Emre Can and Lucas Leiva had been penalised for dispossessing Dusan Tadic together.

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp and Southampton manager Claude Puel. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp and Southampton manager Claude Puel. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

The gift-wrapped opportunity arrived just beyond the hour when a smartly arced ball into the area from Lucas was elbowed away by Jack Stephens and the penalty was awarded - justifiably, despite the Southampton protestations which saw Cedric booked for dissent and James Ward-Prowse booked for time-wasting.

"You saw what they did. Why do you need my say on it?" Klopp observed. "Two yellow cards for them and with the time delay, I don't know how long Forster needed for his kicks, four minutes, that is ambitious. But I have nothing to do with it…" He said the Anfield pitch mystified him. "We gave all the water we had and after 15 minutes it was really dry, the wind and a little bit… It was difficult," he observed. "You could see it - a lot passes you thought, 'Why are they playing this?' but it was difficult."

Only the points matter now, though. Liverpool have 70 - which would earned them a top-four place in all but two previous years - yet are left to worry whether a place at Europe's high table will really be theirs. (© Independent News Service)

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