Liverpool 2 Southampton 1
Simon Mignolet’s Liverpool career might not be one that is universally admired just yet, but he certainly knows how to make an entrance.
On August 17th 2013 the Belgian goalkeeper saved a last minute penalty from Jon Walters on his debut, earning the Reds a 1-0 win over Stoke City. Fast forward exactly one year on, and here he was flicking Morgan Schneiderlin’s late effort onto the bar, an act made vital by Shane Long’s subsequent header wide.
It was enough for the impressive Schneiderlin to wish that he really “wasn’t quite right” to have started this game for Southampton, but having done so he and his teammates put up a fantastic performance which left last season’s runners-up chasing the ball around their own turf for large periods of the afternoon.
No-one has done that to Liverpool at Anfield for ages, but then of course this is a very different Liverpool.
We’re 164 words in now, so it’s about time that we mentioned Luis Suarez, the forward who still leaves a large shadow over the club he left this summer.
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Of course Suarez wouldn’t have been available to play here if he was still a Reds player – with the fact that he’s absent from any meaningful game until November largely overlooked by those lamenting his departure – but Brendan Rodgers will have known exactly what a failure to win this game would have done.
Liverpool’s hunt for a new forward already dominates the back pages, and so if Daniel Sturridge hadn’t nudged home the scruffy winning goal with 11 minutes remaining here then that speculation would have reached fever pitch.
Radamel Falcao? Edinson Cavani? Wilfried Bony? All are just names to be endlessly debated on social media at the moment. On the pitch there is the maturing Sturridge and the joyful Raheem Sterling.
On a day when Southampton paid particular attention to the creative skills of Philippe Coutinho and pretty much stopped the tricky Brazilian in his tracks, Sterling was always going to be crucial; seen sprinting away from the nervy Maya Yoshida first to race onto a Sturridge through ball and then onto Jordan Henderson’s majestic pass for his goal.
From thereon in, Yoshida’s nerves were seemingly transferred to the Liverpool team and by association the Anfield stands.
One of the key elements that Suarez brought to Liverpool’s game was the ability to overrun opponents. They were scared to touch him when he got the ball, and as a consequence they dropped back into their shells more and more, in some cases simply praying for a quick and painless death.
Without Suarez this Liverpool side will have to become much more of a team, something that Rodgers has been stressing all summer. And that team will build from the back.
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It’ll help, then, that Mignolet made that save from Schneiderlin to win three points here, that Javi Manquillo improved as the game went on, and that Dejan Lovren was the authoritative voice that he’s been signed to be. You can pick holes in the defence for Nathaniel Clyne’s goal and for other incidents too (they are pretty easy to see) but this was all about the three points for Liverpool.
You’d assume that Alberto Moreno has been signed to replace the startlingly declining Glen Johnson at left-back and that the somewhat ponderous Lucas Leiva will eventually be replaced by Emre Can or Joe Allen, who was impressive here and added urgency to Liverpool’s game when he came on.
That just leaves this mythical “big name forward” to add, and then the Reds might well be looking good. Or just about good enough anyway.
So for a club so desperate not to take any backward steps following the sale of one of the best players in the world, this was a short but significant first foot forward.
Mignolet’s latest last minute save could still turn out to be a watershed moment.
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