Match Report: Agger adds substance to Brendan Rodgers’ plan
Liverpool 1 Southampton 0
There are some who believe that Brendan Rodgers has been given a very easy ride for someone who hitherto could only point to home wins against Reading and Wigan as evidence of his “work in progress”.
There was the usual commanding lead in statistics that related to possession of the ball that the Liverpool manager is so entranced by - yesterday it was 69 per cent to 31. However, Liverpool were also refreshingly direct, struck the frame of Southampton’s goal twice, and were never seriously under threat.
It may have been because his players are being stationed in positions they are used to, not least Glen Johnson, a natural right back who, out of necessity has been pushed out to the left for most of Rodgers’ time in charge. Here, Johnson was back in his comfort zone and was a constant, marauding presence down the Southampton left.
The only stain on the afternoon was Luis Suarez’s booking for attempting to punch Steven Gerrard’s cross into the net, which earned him a fifth booking and a suspension for next Sunday’s game at West Ham.
Having humbled Rafa Benitez, Sam Allardyce might fancy the prospect of a neutered Suarez-less Liverpool at Upton Park. When it was put to him that the Uruguayan was guilty of “cheating”, Rodgers briefly looked as if he would lose his temper completely. Much depends on whether you consider Diego Maradona cheated against England in the Azteca in 1986 or merely demonstrated the cleverness of a pickpocket.
Nevertheless, Allardyce will have to contend with a Liverpool midfield reinforced by Lucas Leiva. There was a time when his return would have earned nothing more than a shrug along the Anfield Road. For most of his time on Merseyside, the Brazilian was considered too lightweight to hold a Liverpool midfielder. He became the player Rafa Benitez thought he might become when bringing him from Gremio as a teenager, although his reputation was never higher in the 12 months in which he was stricken by serious injury.
Here, it was his presence as well his play that saw Liverpool take a control of a match they seldom threatened to relinquish, giving Steven Gerrard the reassurance to maraud forward in a way he has seldom been able to do under Rodgers. When Nigel Adkins remarked that Liverpool had control of the ball in midfield, much of this was to do with the slight, blond and once maligned Brazilian.
His Southampton side were identified as Swansea by the Tannoys, which they would not regard as an insult. They did not remotely produce a result to match the Welsh side’s victory at Arsenal, although Rickie Lambert, who grew up in Kirkby and has a Liver Bird tattooed into his arm, might have scored spectacularly when spotting Pepe Reina off his line. Lambert shot from 35 yards and almost scored but that was as close as Southampton were to come and, frankly, the match ought to have been over by the interval.
The warning sides were there. Gerrard’s shot pass to Jonjo Shelvey was met by a first-time shot that crashed against the intersection of post and crossbar. Then Suarez won a free-kick and took it himself. It cleared the wall, dipped dramatically and struck the crossbar on the full. It was played back in by Johnson and headed home emphatically by Daniel Agger for the day’s first and last goal. There should have been more.
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