Liverpool is a city of taxi cab talk, where it is not uncommon for rumour to be presented as irrefutable fact. Perhaps no tale was more unlikely than the sighting of Zinedine Zidane in the weeks after his wife Véronique claimed she was tired of land-locked Turin and wanted to live by the sea. Zidane was promptly spotted at Formby Point, the pinewoods and then any other landmark in the area where Merseyside’s footballers tend to spend their time.
It is uncertain what came first: the story about Liverpool having lots of money to spend this summer should they confirm a place in next season’s Champions League and it being revealed that, at £50million, Virgil van Dijk was the club’s primary target, or, indeed, the sightings of Van Dijk checking out property on Victoria Road, Formby’s millionaire row – the tree-lined boulevard where Jürgen Klopp lives.
Van Dijk’s damaged ankle meant he wasn’t available for Southampton at Anfield and there are understandable questions to be asked about the virtues of Liverpool wanting to commit so much money to someone who has been injured for so long, especially since the defender’s performances had improved playing for a manager in Claude Puel whose sides are known for caution and ability to stifle opponents just like Liverpool. In their dark shirts here, Southampton’s players operated with the diligence and efficiency of dung beetles. Four times they have stopped Liverpool from scoring this season. That’s 360 minutes of football.
Liverpool 0 Southampton 0 player ratings
Liverpool 0 Southampton 0 player ratings
1/22 Simon Mignolet – 5 out of 10
He was only forced to make a small number of saves, so it was an easy afternoon for the keeper.
2/22 Nathaniel Clyne – 6 out of 10
He was charging up and down the channels, but at times he was leaving Liverpool vulnerable the back when he was struggling to track back.
3/22 Dejan Lovren – 5 out of 10
Was clumsy in his challenges which gave away a cluster of unnecessary fouls. However, he held the line well at the back and used possession well.
4/22 Joel Matip – 6 out of 10
It was a relatively straight forward afternoon for the defender due to a lack of attacks from the Saints, but he did his job when he was called upon.
5/22 James Milner – 4 out of 10
He missed from the penalty spot, which denied Liverpool the chance to take the lead. Despite an impressive record from the spot, Forster came out on top this time.
6/22 Emre Can – 5 out of 10
Appeared to run out of ideas in possession – when he was on the edge of the box he was just giving the ball away.
7/22 Lucas – 6 out of 10
He was pumping balls up to the strikers, but his efforts went unrewarded. He looked energetic, but he came out second best in a number of 50/50 challenges.
8/22 Georgino Wijnaldum – 6 out of 10
A textbook display from Wijnaldum in the middle, but sometimes he needs to use the simple option as opposed to always going for the long ball.
9/22 Roberto Firmino – 7 out of 10
Was Liverpool’s best player in the first half – he appeared to have no end of energy and his movement off the ball was creating chances.
10/22 Philippe Coutinho – 4 out of 10
His movement was good, but when he was on the ball he failed to take any of his chances. He looked as though he needed an injection of confidence.
11/22 Divock Origi – 6 out of 10
He looked menacing when he was charging at the Southampton defence, but he was just lacking the final product.
12/22 Fraser Forster – 9 out of 10
His exquisite penalty save kept the scores level and he made a collection of crucial stops throughout.
13/22 Cedric Soares – 7 out of 10
His repeated interceptions and clearances stopped a handful of Liverpool moves. He also used possession well from the back.
14/22 Jack Stephens – 5 out of 10
His moment of inanity for the handball was rescued by Forsters excellent save. Aside from that he defended well today.
15/22 Maya Yoshida – 5 out of 10
He was playing very deep, which was allowing the Liverpool to have a lot of space going forward.
16/22 Ryan Bertrand – 6 out of 10
He was crashing into challenges, holding his position well and looked more than capable of maintaining the Liverpool forwards.
17/22 Dusan Tadic – 6 out of 10
He was finding himself in all of the right places, but just lacked service throughout.
18/22 Steven Davis – 6 out of 10
Was highly influential in the Southampton side today and he started a handful of promising moves for the visitors.
19/22 Oriol Romeu – 7 out of 10
His bruising challenge on Origi marked his authority in the early stages of the game. He battled hard and tackled well.
20/22 James Ward-Prowse – 6 out of 10
His deliveries into the area were menacing, but the Saints lacked an aerial threat so his crosses were never converted.
21/22 Sofiane Boufal – 4 out of 10
Aside from the occasional pass, Boufal had no input to the game today. He was constantly marked and did not seem to want the ball.
22/22 Manolo Gabbiadini – 4 out of 10
The striker went missing at times today and he failed to make any real impact when in possession.
Klopp had warned that he would tailor Liverpool’s approach in the final weeks of the campaign, with results reflecting a more pragmatic patterns, results like 2-1, 1-0, 1-0, 1-2, 1-0 and now, 0-0. Perhaps if Liverpool had a striding figure such as van Dijk – someone who when fit hoovers up defensive space with his pace – Liverpool would be going for it a bit more, leaving more gaps in the pursuit of goals.
Without Sadio Mané’s pace and without Jordan Henderson’s setting the tempo Liverpool’s midfield needs in order to overwhelm, it seems as though Klopp has decided that patience could just about get Liverpool the outcomes they require to achieve campaign objectives.
It is a risky strategy but it might just work because games are running out for the teams chasing Liverpool, who might still be able to secure Champions League football as early as next week with a victory at West Ham.
If that were to happen, it will mean that Liverpool will have limped towards their target and that – even with disappointments like poor home results against Swansea City, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Southampton – will represent progress, without inflating expectation to such unreasonable levels that it eventually crushes the players later on. Liverpool will have never done it this way around: to seem like they could be champions, to fall away – but still move forward and get roughly to where they want to be.
Fail, though, and parallels might be drawn with Gérard Houllier’s first full season in charge, 1999/2000. Like Klopp, Houllier was also attempting to shift perceptions about the determination and resilience of his players and like Klopp, Houllier had taken full control of the team eighteen months before.
Under Houllier, Liverpool had been second with five games left to play but the goals dried up and when the season drew to a conclusion, Liverpool had failed to score again.
One of the opponents in that miserable run was Southampton who left Anfield with a 0-0 draw. Similarly, Liverpool faced a team with the spectre of relegation looming over their shoulder on the final day in Bradford City.
Two weekends from now Middlesbrough visit Merseyside and though they are almost down, they do not know they are down yet. And so, Middlesbrough could be the difference between Liverpool's ability to sign van Dijk or not.Reuse content