Danny Ings’ resurgence and how Liverpool can beat Southampton’s own high press

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Southampton make the daunting trip to Anfield this weekend, with Danny Ings looking to dent his former employer’s Premier League title bid.

The Reds returned to league action in midweek, beating West Ham 2-0 at the London Stadium.

It means Jurgen Klopp‘s men are now an astonishing 19 points clear of champions Man City, with 14 matches remaining this season.

Up next for Liverpool is Saturday’s visit of an in-form Saints side, following five wins and a draw from their last seven league outings.

Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side are now only three points adrift of Man United and Tottenham—staggering, considering what a poor start to the season they made.

With kickoff fast approaching, we spoke to St Mary’s regular Richard Brereton (@RichardBrer) to get his opinion on the season so far and Saturday’s clash.

 

Southampton are on fire after a bad start – how happy are you with the season overall?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 17, 2019: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (L) and Southampton's Ryan Bertrand during the FA Premier League match between Southampton FC and Liverpool FC at St. Mary's Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s crazy that after our appalling start and the 9-0 loss to Leicester that we are three points off the Europa League places.

It seems as if every team apart from Liverpool is doing their best to finish as low down the table as possible. One bad week can see a team drop several places.

I’m very happy with the way we are playing at the moment, particularly away from home, but I’m still conscious that things could turn very quickly.

It does genuinely feel as though we have turned a corner, however, so hopefully a significant downturn in form does not materialise.

 

What has Hasenhuttl done that has turned your fortunes around?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 17, 2019: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp and Southampton's manager Ralph Hasenhüttl before the FA Premier League match between Southampton FC and Liverpool FC at St. Mary's Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The biggest factor behind our upturn in form has been consistency, both in selection and tactical approach. Hasenhuttl admitted that he and the players lost their way at the start of this season.

It took the drubbing from Leicester and the completely abject performance against Everton later to force the club to have a complete rethink.

Hasenhuttl used the international break to work with the team and go back to basics, ditching three at the back in favour of his preferred 4-2-2-2 system and renewing the focus on a high-energy, high-pressing approach.

The start of the season was characterised by a different and often nonsensical approach to team selections, particularly in defence, but he has now found a settled side and it has paid off.

 

Which players have stood out most this season?

Southampton's Danny Ings during the Premier League match at St Mary's, Southampton (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire/PA Images)

The main two have been James Ward-Prowse and Danny Ings.

I will talk about Ings in more depth later on, but it’s nice to finally have a striker that is clinical and can score all types of goals.

We haven’t had that since Graziano Pelle left in 2016.

His fitness and ability to sustain the high press has been a real surprise, and has led to him scoring goals by pressing the ‘keeper or centre-backs and forcing them to make mistakes.

Saints are still not particularly good at converting chances, so without Ings’ goals we would be in a much worse position.

Many Saints fans had written off Ward-Prowse and decided that he wouldn’t cut it as a starting member of a top-10 Premier League side.

He has turned into a tough-tackling, combative central midfielder who is not afraid to indulge in the darker arts of professional football, and has been crucial in our ability to maintain the high-intensity pressing game.

 

Do you think Liverpool let Ings go too soon, or is this his level?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, August 7, 2018: Liverpool's Danny Ings during the preseason friendly match between Liverpool FC and Torino FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

This is a really difficult question to answer, because I think that there are many factors behind Ings’ current form.

I suspect that the answer lies somewhere in between, though.

I never would have thought that he would be fit enough to play as a complete forward in a high-intensity team, but his ability to do so is testament to him and how his minutes have been managed by Hasenhuttl and the medical staff.

Ings has spoken a lot about how happy he is at Southampton and how highly he is valued by fans and his fellow squad members; it is also important to note that he is from Southampton and is very close to his family, particularly his father.

These factors, combined with getting regular game time, have probably been the biggest reasons for his resurgence in form.

I think he has the ability to hit these levels at Liverpool, but he was never going to get enough game time following his injuries.

 

What do you think is the key to Liverpool’s success?

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Thursday, January 23, 2020: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp celebrates after the FA Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. Liverpool wom 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

They are clearly strong across the park, but I think the two main factors are how well they work as a unit and the strength of the team defensively.

Liverpool’s defence is one of the best in the world currently—the additions of Alisson and Virgil van Dijk have given much-needed stability and world-class ability.

The unity and understanding between all 11 players on the pitch at one time allows for seamless transition from defence to attack, too.

We have seen so many occasions when Liverpool have broken forward with speed and intensity to score goals on the break.

The team may not be as free-flowing as last season, but their ability to rally together and force a win has ensured their dominance.

 

Who do you fear most for the Reds on Saturday?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 29, 2019: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (R) and Mohamed Salah before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I’m a big fan of Sadio Mane, and while I never like to see players get injured I’m very glad that he isn’t fit to play against us.

In terms of the players that will feature, the two that concern me most are Van Dijk and Mohamed Salah.

Salah hasn’t been as destructive this season, but our defence has struggled at times to deal with pace and directness.

It will be interesting to see how we cope with the Egyptian.

Saints fans know full well how good Van Dijk is. He is probably the best defender the club has ever had and was in the top two or three in the world even when we sold him.

When he could be bothered to put the effort in he was sublime.

He has added so much stability to Liverpool’s defence and it will be interesting to see how Ings and Shane Long fare against him.

 

Where will the key battles take place?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 11, 2020: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There will be several key battles in this game.

A big part of our recent upturn in form has been how well we have pressed collectively as a team.

We haven’t allowed sides to play out from the back and have fashioned a number of goalscoring opportunities from winning the ball in the opposition’s defensive third.

We have struggled at times against teams that have used long balls to bypass the press, however.

It will be interesting to see if Van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold in particular use them to initiate Liverpool attacks.

At the other end of the pitch, we have been using a tactic of starting counter-attacks of our own by passing along the back four to Jack Stephens, who plays it long.

Wolves turned the game around at half-time by putting two up front and cutting out the passing channel from Jan Bednarek to Stephens, so it will be interesting to see if Jurgen Klopp has picked up on this and tasks Salah and Roberto Firmino with pressing in tandem.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 14, 2019: Liverpool's Andy Robertson during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The other area that will be fascinating is the battle of the full-backs. All four players like to get high up the pitch and contribute to attacking moves.

If one team’s full-backs can pin the other into their own half, it will have a big impact on who wins the game.

Hasenhuttl could be forced to play someone out of position at right-back, with neither Cedric Soares or Kyle Walker-Peters in contention.

 

Finally, hit us with your prediction…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 19, 2020: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah takes off his shirt as he celebrate scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Due to our form away from home and our preference for pressing teams high up the pitch, I can see the game being closely fought.

I think we will restrict Liverpool’s ability to play out from the back, but I am very concerned about Van Dijk and others playing long balls over the top to Salah and Co., as we are vulnerable when our press is bypassed.

I think Liverpool will win 2-1.

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