An early season trip to the South Coast could have posed problems after 120+ minutes in Istanbul for the Reds. However, despite a nervy ending to the match, Liverpool sank Southampton 2-1 at Saint Mary’s.
Liverpool started brightly, as though the locker room remit was to go out get an early lead and reserve some energy after securing more silverware midweek. It did not quite work out that way and Southampton eventually took charge of the first half and tested the Reds resolve.
Given two of their opening four matches have stretched to penalty kick shootouts, managing minutes in the squad’s legs while still trying to establish rhythm for the the new campaign has posed problems. Still Sadio Manê’s goal just before the break showed Liverpool’s class cannot be denied.
Roberto Firmino doubled the lead in 71st minute and it looked like the Reds would cruise to an easy win. Then Adrián pulled a howler reminiscent of Alisson’s early season blunder and invited Saints back into the match, making for a more frantic finish than desired.
The victory made Jurgen Klopp the fastest manger to 300 points in LFC history at 146 matches, topping Kenny Dalgish’s 150.
Now with a trophy and maximum points in the league, Liverpool have a full week to recover and prepare for Arsenal at home.
Here are four findings from the match.
The creaky performances put in by Liverpool are no doubt down to the “strange” pre-season. A combination of rustiness, minor tactical adjustments to the new rule changes, and extra fixtures find the Reds looking uneven all over the pitch.
Difficulty at the back, finding rhythm, and already heavy legs have prevented the side from fully opening up and winding out in the early stages.
All the problems are solvable with match play, giving the players a chance to gain the sharpness required to play at their best. The defence is still acclimating to the changes in how offside is being called.
Still, managing individual player needs, balancing minutes for the squad, and building a platform for the kind of performances Liverpool are capable of producing will require composure and courage from all corners.
While Liverpool have had genuine runs of strong play with mere moments of exposure, particularly against Manchester City and Norwich City, more recent matches against Chelsea and Southampton have seen the Reds look considerably more vulnerable.
Regardless, the reigning European champions fell to City on penalties.
Despite some concern from supporters, what is clear is that Jurgen Klopp and the Reds are evolving oncee again to another level, complete with all the growing pains.
This side now knows the true depth of its quality and is gaining greater command of when, where, and how to use it. It would be overstated to suggest that they are coasting, but they definitely look like they are learning how to grind out results more conservatively.
One of the benefits of the problematic pre-season campaign is that Sadio Mané has returned without having lost any of the razor sharpness he finished off with last season or during the African Cup of Nations.
With virtually no layoff, the Senegalese sensation has not skipped a beat since winning the Golden Boot. He is absolute match-winning quality on par with the best in Europe.
Mané’s goal was number 20 in his last 26 matches with the club. Since joining Liverpool the attacker has taken his game to an entirely different level. Quite simply, he is now unquestionably world class.
His cracking finish against Saints, as well as his two excellent brace in the midweek Super Cup, show Mané is already soaring. The Reds may need to ride his form in the early season, before quickly finding a way to manage his minutes to avoid trouble in the spring.
Another player whose summer abbreviated his pre-season, Roberto Firmino has begun the season in fine form. As the side has struggled to shake off the summer, Liverpool’s number 9 has, at times, almost single-handedly pulled the Reds through the slough.
In two matches this week, Firmino has combined with Mané to produce performances that break opponents.
Long the lynchpin in the side, the Brazilian brings out the best in the Reds going forward. Against Southampton, he should have had a brace but has to settle for the match-winner instead. To get the winning goal more than made up for his earlier miss from a Mané cross that would have finished a stunning counterattack of beauty.
Jurgen Klopp’s greatest challenge this season may be how to play without his centre forward, who is essentially a unique player.