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Five talking points: Southampton vs Liverpool

Bottom feeders Southampton stopped a rampant Liverpool right in their tracks on Saturday afternoon to pick a well deserved 3-1 victory over the Merseysiders and move a safe seven points clear of the dreaded relegation zone. Morgan Schneiderlin and Rickie Lambert gave the Saints a 2-0 lead in the first half, only for Phillipe Coutinho to grab one back for the Reds with literally the last kick of the half. Jay Rodriguez would then seal the win in the second half, with a superb individual goal that saw him drive through an abject and slow Liverpool defence.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16:  Rickie Lambert of Southampton celebrates with team mates after scoring their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on March 16, 2013 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Southampton players celebrate after scoring a goal during the Barclays Premier League match against Liverpool at St Mary’s Stadium on March 16, 2013 in Southampton, England. (Getty Images)

Five talking points from the game were:

Southampton were far better than Liverpool:

Having won just one of their last nine games, few expected Southampton to out-muscle a Liverpool side that was in excellent form and also had an excellent record against the weaker teams. The Saints were going for the victory from the get go, and they were faster, hungrier and stronger than the Reds, especially in midfield. Joe Allen is due for a shoulder surgery, and was understandably overrun in the first half. The Saints cut open the visitors at will, and displayed the kind of profligacy that has been so characteristic of their famous opponents this season.

Captain Adam Lallana and Schneiderlin bossed the midfield, with Lallana’s intelligent use of the ball and creative influence resulted in several chances for the home side. Lambert and Rodriguez too made the Liverpool defence sweat profusely for the entire match, with Lambert making a mockery out of the once-unflappable Skrtel. The defence stood up as well, given the nightmarish threat that Luis Suarez brings. They managed to keep him and Sturridge quiet, while Coutinho was often Liverpool’s most dangerous player.

Artur Boruc chipped in with several crucial saves as well to secure a huge victory for the Saints.

Starting Skrtel was a bad idea:

What a fall from grace for Martin Skrtel. From the dizzy heights of last season, when Skrtel was one of the best centre-backs in the league, his game has shrunk rapidly under Rodgers. Making mistakes left, right and centre, Rodgers’ decision to leave the retiring Jamie Carragher out the squad entirely backfired completely, and the young manager was left ruing his crucial error. The Slovakian was overwhelmed by the physical threat posed by Rickie Lambert and struggled to keep up with the energetic Southampton offensive.

Skrtel was directly at fault for Schneiderlin’s opener, as he was unable to correctly track and keep up with the midfielder’s run. He was also partly culpable for the third goal, but that was more reflective on the sloppy defending on Lucas’s part. The entire away defence looked shaky, with Skrtel merely being the worst of a pretty bad bunch. Carragher’s leadership skills and his positional awareness were sorely missed. With Mr. Liverpool retiring in the summer and in light of Skrtel’s form, the Reds might have to look for a new defender or show some faith in Sebastian Coates.

Defensive midfield still a worry for the Reds:

Before Lucas’s unfortunate injury in December 2011, defensive midfield was never a problem for the Reds. After Lucas’s injury, the Reds struggled immensely and finished 8th. Strong and tenacious in midfield, with an excellent eye for a tackle, Lucas still hasn’t returned to top form following two massive injuries. The Brazilian looked sluggish and off-the pace at Saint Mary’s, with Rodriguez’s goal showcasing that on a grand scale.

However, he was far better than his Welsh teammate Joe Allen, who never should’ve started in the first place. Allen was beaten off the ball very easily, and lacked any sort of tenacity whatsoever. Whether he was injured or not, Allen’s form has dipped to alarming proportions in the past few months and it showed. Liverpool’s answer is still Lucas, as he is capable of returning to form, and Rodgers will be hoping that it would happen sooner rather than later.

Phillipe Coutinho – the latest hero?

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16:  (THE SUN OUT, THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool celebrates after scoing a goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on March 16, 2013 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool celebrates after scoring against Southampton at St Mary’s Stadium on March 16, 2013 in Southampton, England. (Getty Images)

When Luis Suarez has a bad day, Liverpool has a bad day. The point was proven yesterday, as the enigmatic Uruguayan failed to muster any sort of threat to the home defence, due to a combination of poor play and good defending. It was understandable, as playing at the level Suarez plays week-in and week-out is something that can’t be done all the time.

But the man who has been compared to Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi, Coutinho, emerged to pick up the pieces and proved to be Liverpool’s best attacking outlet. He struggled to provide a sustained threat, due to the lack of assistance and unfamiliar rainy conditions. The Brazilian was full of tricks and a composed presence for large periods, before being burned out. He’s becoming better by the week, and is showing what he is really capable of.

He could become a huge player for the Reds and Brazil in the coming years, and a budding partnership with Suarez is only conducive to his development, after a period of stagnation at Inter Milan.

Southampton need to replicate such performances:

The Saints were desperate and vulnerable, and ultimately came out with all guns blazing. Their last victory was against Manchester City, and the home side seem to perform better against the top sides. But what they need to do to stay up in the league, is to consistently pick up points against the likes of QPR and Reading. Adam Lallana led the side with a captain’s display, and with Chelsea coming to Saint Mary’s next week, another such performance is required.

The Saints are seven points clear, and provided they manufacture more robust and energetic performances like this one, they will easily stay in the top flight.

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