Plot Liverpool’s results from the last three years against the line. A trend will appear.
Every time ‘hope’ embarks on a particularly steep climb, a disappointing defeat is plotted at the summit and the line begins to descend once more.
As good as Liverpool were in their three recent league victories, they were – bizarrely – every bit as bad in this 3-1 defeat to Southampton.
From the very first whistle, it looked like it would be a difficult afternoon. Quite simply, Liverpool didn’t turn up. Brendan Rodgers was praised by many last week – the writer included – for his tactical nous during the defeat of Tottenham Hotspur.
On Saturday however, he was given a tactical thumping by his Argentine counterpart Mauricio Pocchetino. His team held a high defensive line and squeezed the life out of every Liverpool attack – which normally start slowly from the back anyway.
The visitors looked vulnerable almost immediately – not helped by the absence of an injured Jamie Carragher and the presence of a completely out-of-sorts Martin Skrtel – and they duly conceded on 6 minutes when Morgan Schneiderlin turned in Jay Rodriguez’s cushioned header.
Another cross into the box poorly dealt with by Liverpool. Glen Johnson ball watching yet again and a lack of aggression in Martin’s Skrtel’s marking of Schneiderlin.
Liverpool’s response was completely toothless and Southampton fashioned several other opportunities to stretch their lead, most notably for Rickie Lambert who spurned a one-on-one when his shot was blocked by Brad Jones.
With every chance missed, hopes were raised that Liverpool would punish the Saints’ profligacy. But, the home side took a deserved two-goal lead on 33 minutes, when former Liverpool youth player Rickie Lambert struck a 30 yard free-kick that took a deflection off Daniel Sturridge’s calf and caught Brad Jones flat-footed before drifting into the bottom right hand corner.
A vastly improved second half performance and perhaps the salvaging of a point at the very least was expected. Joe Allen’s poor first half performance led to him being replaced by Lucas. In truth, any significant improvement failed to materialise.
Around the hour mark however, Liverpool did have two chances to record an equaliser. Firstly, Daniel Sturridge fired wide after Southampton failed to clear a Steven Gerrard cross, and secondly, Lucas’ delightful lobbed pass put Luis Suarez clean through, but the ball skidded sharply off the wet surface and into the hands of Artur Boruc.
Southampton successfully weathered a weak Liverpool storm and soon began to look for a third. On 80 minutes, Jay Rodriguez was given the freedom of the south-coast when he was allowed to amble straight through Liverpool’s pathetic rearguard; his first attempt was saved by Jones but he was still allowed to nudge in the rebound.
This defeat provides a real kick in the teeth for Liverpool supporters. Just when it looked like Liverpool were the team with momentum in the upper echelons of the Premier League, a show-stopping defeat completely derails their hopes of any challenge for fourth place.
It’s an intriguing trend that Liverpool teams have continued to perpetuate for several years. Is it just a coincidence that they are beaten just as their fans feel particularly good about the team? Probably not. Should we just accept that the team isn’t good enough to go on a longer run of victories? Maybe.
Or, is it perhaps the attitude of the players? This could very well be the uncomfortable home truth.
It would be hard to question Liverpool’s approach when playing ‘smaller’ teams, given that their record against teams from outside the top six has been so convincing.
However, a few good results creates breathing space and perhaps some wriggle room in terms of work rate levels. It can be stated with some certainty that Liverpool did not approach this game in the same way as the Spurs fixture.
If this is indeed the problem, then the players should hang their heads in shame.
This is difficult to acknowledge, but, rain, wind or shine, Manchester United approach every single fixture with the correct attitude and play with the same intensity, whatever the occasion. It’s one of the reasons why they are so consistent.
This in itself is a combination of the mental fortitude of their players and the intense motivational power of their manager.
Drawing every last bead of sweat, from every single player, for every single game, could be Brendan Rodgers’ biggest challenge at a club that continues to hit a brick wall once another ‘corner’ has been turned.
L4L Man of the Match: Brad Jones. Quite frankly, Brad Jones is not good enough for Liverpool FC. But, despite some nervous moments, he kept the scoreline at a far less embarrassing level.
Follow me on Twitter: @antonyjlfc