Liverpool are looking like real title contenders - Five talking points from Capital One Cup stroll
Southampton vs Liverpool - Daniel Sturridge is back to his best, Liverpool have a new identity under Jurgen Klopp, and Sadio Mane will cost a fortune.
Daniel Sturridge can still leapfrog Harry Kane for England
England’s starting XI at the European Championship in France next summer will probably be heavily shaped by latest the injury list but the options that are now potentially open to Roy Hodgson have never been better.
Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane have been the Premier League’s two most consistent strikers this season. Theo Walcott was in the best form of his career before his most recent injury, Wayne Rooney has just become England’s record goalscorer and Danny Welbeck is due back in January.
Yet it is still hard to think of a more instinctively dangerous player when he is fully fit than Daniel Sturridge.
This was his first start since the beginning of October but there were no obvious signs of rust and, after Southampton had actually dominated the opening 20 minutes, it was his clinical finishing rather than anything more complicated about Jurgen Klopp’s tactics that ultimately swung the tie for Liverpool.
Klopp has handled Sturridge perfectly so far - and sensibly took him off after an hour here – but not before a decisive and timely reminder of his vast qualities.
Liverpool already have a new identity under Jurgen Klopp
With 15 goals, four wins and one draw from their five away games under Jurgen Klopp, a very clear pattern is beginning to emerge.
Liverpool will clearly be a very dangerous team wherever they play but, on the counter-attack against opposition who have dared to take the game to them (Manchester City, Chelsea and now Southampton), they are potentially devastating.
Klopp’s football philosophy hinges heavily on the intensity of his teams when out of possession followed by the speed at which they then attack opponents at their moment of greatest weakness.
It is hugely entertaining to watch, generally effective and very different to the more possession-focussed style under Brendan Rodgers. The wider test will be when teams actually sit back and themselves defend deeply but the great wonder is that Klopp has managed to impose his identity on this Liverpool team so quickly.
League Cup can be perfect springboard for Klopp
No club has won the League Cup more often than Liverpool and, while the departure of Kenny Dalglish in 2012 stands as a blunt reminder of the owners’ priorities, there is a big opportunity now for Jurgen Klopp.
Nothing legitimises a manager in the eyes of the supporters like silverware. More importantly, there is nothing more beneficial to the collective self-confidence of a young and relatively newly constructed squad like Liverpool’s.
In those circumstances, just as was the case with Jose Mourinho’s first Chelsea team and even the Manchester United side of 2006, it can be the springboard for a greater era of success.
Klopp’s job security will probably hinge over these next few years on Champions League qualification but it is not always a zero-sum game in relation to league performances. Winning at Wembley in February will help fuel Liverpool towards their other ambitions.
Ronald Koeman is in tune with his club's fans
As well as being one of football’s greatest defenders and an impressive manager, Ronald Koeman is a journalist’s dream in how he invariably has the self-confidence to respond to just about any question with a straight answer.
Probably the most familiar topic during these past 18 months has related to what he thinks of selling his best players.
Previously he has sounded far more accepting of football’s great food chain but on this occasion he admitted that, yes, it could begin to “p***” him off this summer and that the club must scout well and be prepared to spend rather more on replacements. After a third straight loss, supporters will be nodding in agreement.
Regardless of the result, they would still also have loved how he approached this League Cup quarter-final by fielding his best team and stressing how the next step for Southampton was winning a trophy. Football is about the glory not the difference in prize-money between a place or two in the Premier League and Koeman seems to get this.
Sadio Mane will cost more than any former Southampton players
It took only 41 seconds here to again remind Manchester United and other potential suitors of his class. Southampton know that they will face further interest next year for their star player but there will be a big difference in the internal valuation for Mane compared to the other recent departures.
The going rate has tended to be between £15 million and £30 million for Southampton’s best players but Mane is regarded as a rather different case.
With football generally short of good young centre forwards, especially players with such devastating pace, there is a sense that Anthony Martial is not an unreasonable comparison. Martial, of course, was sold for an initial £36 million fee that may yet rise to £58 million.
Southampton still hope to keep Mane and potentially extend his contract but, with a new television deal also looming, he is already regarded as more valuable than any of the players that were sold to Liverpool and Manchester United over the past 18 months.