Sport Soccer

Monday 25 September 2017

Suarez is straining at leash to get back

Liverpool 0 Southampton 1

Kolo Toure battles it out with Rodriguez at Anfield
Kolo Toure battles it out with Rodriguez at Anfield

Chris Bascombe

LUIS SUAREZ'S exile from English football cannot end soon enough following Liverpool's first defeat of the season.

Suarez watched in despair from an Anfield executive box as his team surrendered the Premier League leadership with an abject performance against Southampton.

If the defeat on Saturday illustrated how much Liverpool need Suarez, the Anfield faithful will be encouraged by Kolo Toure's claims that the Uruguayan's form in training shows how much he wants to return to playing.

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"Suarez has been very difficult to defend against in training lately. Very, very difficult," Toure said. "He is a fantastic player, a top striker who can score a goal at any time and he will strengthen the team. He and Daniel Sturridge will be a very strong partnership – mobile and very strong.

"I'm sure he will be ready to be thrown back in. You saw from his international appearance the other week, in the first game he'd played for a while he scored twice (for Uruguay). That just shows how strong the guy is. His return is going to be massive for us, definitely.

"He is a winner. He's always working hard and a fighter. You want those kind of players. That's what we were doing at the start of the season. We need to do that again."

It was an oddity of Liverpool's season heading into the weekend games that they had failed to produce the same performance in two halves of a Premier League fixture.

Against Southampton, they corrected the anomaly. They were dreadful in both. Mr Hyde had a party while Dr Jekyll took the day off.

Mauricio Pochettino's side, the last to comprehensively outplay Liverpool at St Mary's last March, repeated the trick at Anfield and in doing so exposed the fragility of Brendan Rodgers' squad.

There has been a degree of camouflaging going on at Anfield since August, despite some productive performances and their temporary position at the top.

Liverpool played better football at the end of last season than they have managed at the start of this. With the notable exception of the outstanding goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who kept the scoreline respectable here, it has been a struggle to collate convincing evidence the summer transactions have improved the manager's options.

Rodgers has not quite paraphrased the 'I needed a table and they gave me two lampshades' analogy of one of his predecessors yet, but the lack of midfield creativity in the absence of Phillipe Coutinho must make him look in envy at the huge number of spare No 10s at rival clubs.

On a day when Liverpool needed to readjust to cope with the loss of the Brazilian, the manager felt he had to change his system to accommodate four centre-halves.

What followed was lamentable, fragmented and predictable.

Liverpool may have coped admirably without Suarez for nine of his 10 games of exile, but they have looked devoid of intellect and ingenuity since Coutinho limped off at Swansea City.

You can also trace a worrying deterioration in vitality to the moment Glen Johnson was injured versus Manchester United.

At some clubs, several personnel changes create minimal disruption. Those on the fringes at Anfield are there for a reason.

Iago Aspas finds himself prompting a question regularly asked at Anfield at the sight of a perplexingly expensive new signing.

What exactly did the scouting report say? It is hard to see precisely what box he ticks to a neutral eye. No pace, timidity in the tackle and a poor first touch.

Replacing Coutinho with Aspas was akin to shouting for the nearest passer-by to grab a Liverpool shirt and do a turn. One hopes for the sake of the £8m signing that he has yet to acclimatise.

He was an obvious scapegoat because he was hooked at half-time, but Victor Moses' lethargy did not make for a reassuring home debut either, while you can be certain any hype surrounding Raheem Sterling will be emphatically tempered until such time he justifies its renewal.

Over a year since his first sighting at senior level, there is cause to wonder what all the fuss is about.

However, all this too easily detracts from tactically and technically superior Southampton, brimful of outstanding contributors, from Dejan Lovran, whose headed winner was the highlight of a cultured display at centre-half, through a midfield more mobile and creative than anything the home side could offer.

Adam Lallana and Victor Wanyama were not anxiously awaiting full-time, but striding forward to try to extend the lead and would have done but for Mignolet.

A fair penalty shout by Daniel Sturridge in the first half was all the visitors had to worry about. They spotted the weakness in the Liverpool line-up and exposed it, not least the sight of two centre-backs uncomfortably trying to retain possession at full-back.

Toure was on the right, and on the left was Mamadou Sakho, the Frenchman preferred to Jose Enrique, who is nursing a knee injury.

The vagaries of the modern game leave you permanently one defeat from a setback, two consecutive losses from an inquest and three from a crisis.

Liverpool travel to Old Trafford on Wednesday needing to ensure their uplifting start to the season is not rapidly transformed into little more than run of the mill. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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