Southampton kept their fourth clean sheet against Liverpool this season this afternoon to slow down the Reds top-four challenge.
The Saints never looked likely to score themselves, as they simply held on for a draw; such tactics from Claude Puel perhaps are an indication as to why his future is up for debate among fans. This is certainly a more pragmatic Southampton side than under previous managers like Mauricio Pochettino.
Liverpool began the game with urgency and were on the front foot, with Nathaniel Clyne seeing a lot of the ball early on. The home side were patient in their build-up, but found no clear-cut chances.
With fifteen gone, Roberto Firmino pressed Maya Yoshida into a mistake. The Brazilian nicked the ball off his opponent in a dangerous position, but the Japanese international made up for his error with an important block.
On the counter-attack, Sofiane Boufal was showing glimpses of why Southampton paid a club-record £21 million for him, but Clyne was defending well, and giving him no change.
Liverpool failed to create any meaningful opportunities for the rest of the first half. Philippe Coutinho took a shot from range which was easily held by Fraser Forster, and that was as close as he got.
At half time, the main talking point was referee Bobby Madley, who had produced some strange decisions. Failure to caution Manolo Gabbiadini, first for a foul, and then for refusing to speak to the official, and waving play-on when Boufal clearly fouled Clyne were just two of the decisions that incensed the home crowd.
Madley’s performance did not change in the second half, with corners being given as goal-kicks and vice-versa; Liverpool’s attempts to go ahead were foiled too.
Just after the hour mark, Madley gave a decision that the home crowd were satisfied with, although on second viewing the penalty given after Jack Stephens handled the ball in the area was harsh.
Southampton’s complaints and Forster’s damaging of the penalty spot meant the kick was delayed. When James Milner finally got around to taking it, Forster made a good save, getting down to his right with a powerful wrist.
This was the first penalty kick since November 2009 that the converted left-back has missed, and how costly it was too. It would have broken the deadlock in a game that never seemed able to spark into life.
The introduction of Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge soon after the miss made no difference. Neither looked that sharp, and played some very poor passes mixed in with a few good ones.
Lallana had one left-footed effort from twenty yards that went close, but Forster made the save comfortably.
Going into stoppage time, an Emre Can shot clearly took a deflection, but the referee inexplicably gave a goal-kick. Jurgen Klopp on the sideline, and the Kop behind the goal, were incensed once again, but he was not going to change his mind.
Marko Grujic, the late substitute, also had a header well-saved by Forster, but it was not to be for the Reds.
With two games to go, Liverpool find themselves on 70 points. Two more wins – against West Ham next week and in the final game at home to Middlesbrough the week after – will guarantee fourth place following Manchester United’s loss to Arsenal.
Third place is out of their hands, though: Manchester City are only a point behind, with a game in hand and a superior goal difference.
Southampton climb above rivals Bournemouth into the top half, and Liverpool remain in a good position. Whilst today’s game was far from a brilliant spectacle, a point is not a disastrous result for either.
Simon Mignolet, 7 – did well on a couple of crosses but had little to do throughout the game
Nathaniel Clyne, 7 – got forward a lot and was given a lot of space, but never quite got the final ball right, and was often not found by passes aimed towards him anyway
Joel Matip, 7 – looked assured as always but did not have loads to deal with; able to foray forward at times and join the attack, but it came to nothing
Dejan Lovren, 7 – did well with a couple of tricky balls over the top for Shane Long to chase after he came on; like Matip, had relatively little to do
James Milner, 6 – never troubled defensively but not up to scratch going the other way; also missed the penalty
Lucas, 7 – was often the furthest midfielder forward for Liverpool, but was unable to capitalise; withdrawn for more attacking options later on, and did not do much wrong
Emre Can, 7 – was never going to replicate the goal from last Monday, but his performance dropped considerably too; played some good passes sideways, but not enough incisive ones to open up a packed defence
Gini Wijnaldum, 6 – always tries exceptionally hard and won the ball back many times, but not at his best today at all
Philippe Coutinho, 6 – failed to get into the game out wide, and found himself coming inside more and more; never really grabbed the match by the scruff of the neck as you might have expected
Divock Origi, 6 – much better movement than in recent weeks, but was never found by his teammates; replaced by Sturridge when it was apparent it was not his day
Roberto Firmino, 6 – another who failed to properly get into the game; appeared tired and laboured in possession
Adam Lallana (69th minute sub.), 6 – looked well off the pace; played some really poor passes and did not change the outcome of the game as Klopp would have wanted
Daniel Sturridge (69th minute sub.), 6 – again, did not have the intended impact on the game; he might only appear once more at Anfield as a Liverpool player
Marko Grujic (87th minute sub.), n/a – had one header on goal but other than that was given very little time to make an impact
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