Elusive win slips from Liverpool’s grasp

Liverpool 1 Southampton 1: Jurgen Klopp’s message to all of those following his early progress at Liverpool could be summed up in two words: ‘Calm down.’ Klopp has spent a significant chunk of his first fortnight in charge at Anfield appealing for calm; to his nervous players, to the club’s excitable fans, to a hungry media keen to follow his every move.
Elusive win slips from Liverpool’s grasp

His arrival was intended to revive the fortunes of a club who have slipped from Premier League title contenders towards mediocrity in little more than a year. No-one should be expecting instant success on that front; Klopp will clearly need time to achieve his goals. In the short term, though, jitters are surfacing everywhere.

At the moment, Klopp’s Liverpool are nervy. They stuttered and stumbled through the opening 45 minutes of his third match in charge, snatched at chances when they picked up the pace in the second half, looked to have nudged their way to a late victory, then gave it away with some lax defending.

The result was a familiar one for Liverpool; Brendan Rodgers finished his reign with two draws, Klopp has started his with three more. Miracles, it is clear, do not happen overnight.

“Football is not a fairytale,” said the new manager. “Sometimes we can write stories like this but it doesn’t always happen.”

With 13 minutes to go, it looked as if Klopp would have a fairytale ending. Christian Benteke, on as a half-time substitute for the monumentally ineffective Divock Origi, rose high to power a header into the top corner of the net from James Milner’s right-wing cross. It was a goal to thrill the Kop end, and had Klopp punching the air and embarking on a little jog down the touchline.

The joy lasted for all of nine minutes, as Liverpool’s defensive weaknesses came to the fore. Jose Fonte and Gaston Ramirez were both allowed to win headers inside the penalty area following a free-kick, and Sadio Mane beat Milner at the far post to bundle in his fifth goal in five matches.

It was not the first time during the match that Klopp’s defenders had dozed at a free-kick. In the first half, Virgil van Dijk had been left unattended to head a Steven Davis delivery towards goal, but nodded the ball into the ground and gave Simon Mignolet the chance to scramble away. Liverpool were no better at defending the corner that followed that Mignolet save, with Dusan Tadic working space to cross to give Van Dijk another header at goal. This time, Lucas Leiva cleared the danger. Anfield was a bag of nerves.

Such uneasiness is a trait Klopp must encourage his players to overcome. Before the match, he had spoken of his players looking tense, of being unwilling to take chances because of a fear of making mistakes. He said he had seen it before, in his first season at Borussia Dortmund. He endured a lot of draws that season too; 14 in 34 Bundesliga games as Dortmund finished sixth in 2009. A couple of years later, he had turned them into Bundesliga champions. So there is hope for Liverpool’s long-suffering supporters.

Perhaps there is short-term hope too. Klopp’s early days in charge have been marked by a raft of injuries; Danny Ings and Joe Gomez have suffered cruciate knee ligament damage, Daniel Sturridge remains worryingly susceptible to injury too.

Benteke and Roberto Firmino, however, are returning to full fitness after recent injury troubles, and their introductions from the bench here led to an upturn in Liverpool’s performance. Southampton, unbeaten away from home in the league, have a solidity about them that suggests they could surpass last season’s seventh-place finish; Van Dijk and Fonte were excellent at the back, while Mane’s pace offered a significant threat in support to Graziano Pelle.

One Mane burst in the second half was only thwarted by a magnificently-timed Alberto Moreno challenge. His equaliser was just reward for Southampton; but he then went and spoiled it all by getting sent off for two bookable offences in stoppage time.

Southampton manager Ronald Koeman was pleased enough with a point and, having endured the pressure that comes with playing for Barcelona, warned Klopp not to expect a quiet life.

“Teams like Liverpool, if they have a change in management, there is always a change in expectation.

“I know that. I have played for big teams and I know the expectation on the manager of Liverpool is always bigger than that of Southampton.” The point was clear. Klopp can expect a rollercoaster ride at Anfield. What he will not get is a quiet life.

LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1):

Mignolet 6; Clyne 6, Skrtel 6, Sakho 6, Moreno 7; Can 6, Lucas 7; Milner 6, Coutinho 6 (Ibe 83, 6), Lallana 5 (Firmino 67, 6); Origi 5 (Benteke 45, 7).

SOUTHAMPTON (4-2-3-1):

Stekelenburg 6; Cedric 7, Fonte 7, Van Dijk 7, Bertrand 6; Clasie 6 (Juanmi 76, 6), Wanyama 6; S Davis 6 (Ramirez 80, 6), Mane 7, Tadic 6 (Ward-Prowse 64, 6); Pelle 6.

Referee:

Andre Marriner, 7

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