The recent Premier League match between Liverpool and Southampton was one of the most spectacular collapses that we have seen for some time. It is baffling how a team can go from being clearly on top in the first half, to the extent where they could have and should have been up by more, yet completely fall apart. It would be easy to say this is down to the players just not being good enough, or switching off at halftime and thinking the game was already won. That certainly could have had a part in the matter, but there are bigger reasons for the complete change. This game showed how greatly a manager can influence a game, regardless of what van Gaal believes.
The introductions of Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane at halftime completely changed the game for Southampton. While Mane’s contribution is very clear with his goals, there is a more subtle way that he influenced the game. By pulling Tadic off, Ronald Koeman switched from two up top to a 4-3-3. This spread Liverpool’s defense out, attacking the fullbacks and isolating the centerbacks. This may have not been as effective, if not for another change I will talk about a bit later.
As for Wanyama, his introduction led to Southampton completely overpowering Liverpool’s midfield. Jordie Clasie is a talented player, but Wanyama is a physical specimen. He’s 6’2″, strong, and quick. He came up against Emre Can, who is no slouch, and a tiring Joe Allen. This isn’t necessarily criticizing these two players, it was a brilliant move from Koeman to take advantage of Liverpool’s two man midfield who were clearly exhausted after a draining battle against Manchester United only three days before.
Conversely, the introductions of Martin Skrtel and Christian Benteke had the opposite effects. In Skrtel, who replaced Dejan Lovren at halftime, Liverpool went from a settled, solid back line to a nervy, disjointed one. For the longstanding Liverpool defender, this was surely his worst game. He missed tackles, headers, passes, and had a part in all three of Southampton’s goals. This was made worse by Southampton’s formation switch at halftime. Skrtel’s strengths as a defender lie in making last ditch tackles. It is not his positional sense or tactical reading of the game. By switching to the 4-3-3, Skrtel was led out of position and, coupled with his poor play overall, helped lead to the goals. I’ll break down the goals more below.
Martin Škrtel game by numbers:
3 goals conceded
1 penalty given away
0 tackles won
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 20, 2016
Now let’s look at Benteke. Christian Benteke is something of an enigma at Liverpool. He can clearly be a talented player, his time at Aston Villa shows that, but none of those abilities are on show when he pulls on the red of Liverpool. It is partially tactical, with the preferred style not fitting him well, but when the team has tried to play to his strengths, he hasn’t exactly set the world alight either. That continued against Southampton. His cameo on the field yielded about the same results as you would expect from a player who was later on the wrong end of a harsh talking to from his manager. He ran around a bit, flubbed a chance he would have buried at Aston Villa, and lost a few aerial battles. If Koeman’s subs saved the game for Southampton, than surely Klopp’s lost it for Liverpool.
1-2 (Mane, 65′)
So the first thing of importance that happens for Southampton’s first goal is that Flannagan loses the ball very easily. While the pass back he received from Emre Can wasn’t great, he is still muscled off the ball. Next, we see the movement of Graziano Pelle has pulled Skrtel way out of position, isolating Mamadou Sakho centrally against Mane. As Pelle turns to pass to the on-rushing Mane, Skrtel is not even close to the attacker, allowing for an easy pass into Mane. Mane turns, runs at Sakho, who forces Mane wide. Mane takes a deep angle and scores near post on Simon Mignolet.
2-2 (Pelle, 83′)
For the next goal, we see Skrtel battle Pelle for a lofted header. Skrtel wins the battle, but it’s a poor headed clearance and falls to Southampton’s Steven Davis. Skrtel is now out of position and turns to run into his spot. Pelle, who received the ball from Davis, turns and shoots. Sakho lunges to block but misses. In all fairness, it’s a well taken goal and there is not much that could have been done aside for a better clearance or perhaps a player nicking the ball off of Pelle before his shot. It’s a really well hit shot, though.
3-2 (Mane, 86′)
The final goal is perhaps the worst. Just mistake after mistake. The first issue is the incredibly poor clearance from Mignolet, who scuffs the kick and barely makes it outside of his own box. Next is the unchallenged header that Skrtel misses that gives the ball back to Southampton in a dangerous area. Then we have the tackle from Joe Allen and Skrtel where they get in each other’s way allow Southampton the ball again. With Skrtel out of position, Sakho is left isolated against Mane, who makes an incredible run and beats Mignolet with a driven shot.