Liverpool slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Southampton on Monday night, with questionable refereeing decisions and the need for a centre-back the focus after the game.
The Reds were looking to produce a response to back-to-back draws as they arrived at St Mary’s, only to suffer an even worse result as Danny Ings struck the fatal.
It is only the second league defeat of the campaign, and leaves Liverpool still top of the table – albeit having played a game more than Man United – which highlights the strong position Jurgen Klopp‘s side remain in.
But it is a worrying run of form, and after the loss, fans were left picking apart the positives and negatives on social media.
Where else can we start?
Andre Marriner was already showing signs of a poor night before things really got going in the second half, but the number of challenges overlooked by the referee and his VAR was bordering on ridiculous.
There were, of course, the penalty shouts – namely Jack Stephens’ handball and Kyle Walker-Peters’ foul on Sadio Mane – but there were other, less directly impactful moments too.
Chief among these was a two-footed challenge from Theo Walcott on James Milner that failed to win the ball but also failed to be recognised as a foul of any kind.
I don't recall seeing a refereeing performance as poor as this for a long time, summed up by the failure to award anything for Walcott's late two-footed challenge on Milner. All the credit goes to Southampton for their victory, and none whatsoever to Andre Marriner. pic.twitter.com/SqueEJ140d
— Dave Phillips (@lovefutebol) January 4, 2021
To focus on refereeing decisions after a game in which Liverpool recorded just one shot on target may be seen as sour grapes, but it was a strange, strange night for Marriner.
A step forward for Thiago
Onto a positive, and that comes in the form of Thiago‘s first start since October.
The Spaniard’s return to the side at Newcastle last time out was met with positivity, and despite the result, Klopp was clearly impressed with Thiago‘s cameo at St James’ Park.
At St Mary’s, the summer signing built on these small signs with another productive display, and lasting the full 90 minutes is hugely encouraging.
On a positive football wise, a 90 minutes for Thiago, massive step for us for me for the rest of the season, stay safe everyone and take care of each other YNWA
— Steve Hunter (@Shunter77) January 5, 2021
No doubt Thiago will be a first-choice starter from here on out.
Putting the Trent stat into context
It is hard to ignore that it was a bad night for Trent Alexander-Arnold, with the fact Milner was chosen to take his place in the 77th minute serving as evidence that Klopp felt the same.
After the game, it was pointed out that the right-back lost the ball 38 times at St Mary’s, which is more than any other player in the Premier League this season.
While it is certainly not a positive statistic, Liverpool writer Sam McGuire attempted to put it into context with the high-risk approach the Reds were required to take:
This sounds worse than it is.
We wanted to get the ball forward quickly to the front three (+ Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain). Trent played more long passes against Southampton than he did against Palace, WBA and Newcastle combined. https://t.co/1RXoI8rKKh
— Sam McGuire (@SamMcGuire90) January 5, 2021
This is supported by the fact that those who have lost possession most in the Premier League since 2016/17 are all full-backs, as highlighted by Squawka:
Most times possession lost in a Premier League game since 2016-17:
? Alexander-Arnold: 49 vs Leicester (19/20)
? R. Pereira: 42 vs Southampton (18/19)
? B. Chilwell: 42 vs Everton (18/19)
38 by Trent Alexander-Arnold this evening is joint-16th most. pic.twitter.com/E6dkrInnZO
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 4, 2021
It is almost in the job description for a full-back, therefore, and particularly for one playing for Liverpool, as This Is Anfield’s James Nalton pointed out:
Lots of stuff about Liverpool's misplaced crosses but they have always crossed into areas as much as to teammates. This creates opportunities to win second-balls, to counter-press in small areas/timeframes, as well as direct chances.
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) January 5, 2021
Trent will need to improve, for sure, but this particular statistic appears to be a red herring.
For the third game running, where was Takumi Minamino?
And Minamino still to kick a ball since Palace.
— Steven Kelly (@SteKelly198586) January 5, 2021
Given Taki scored in his last outing – a start on the left in the 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace – it is confusing as to why he has been overlooked in the following three games.
Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino continue to struggle, but Klopp again omitted the only other forward to find the back of the net for Liverpool since November 28.
Oh and centre-backs, of course
More evidence of the need for a new centre-back?
Monday night saw Klopp field his 10th different defensive pairing in just 17 league games this season, with Fabinho and Jordan Henderson an able but far-from-ideal duo.
Yep. https://t.co/j46OpCAKPN pic.twitter.com/z8YxgB7v54
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) January 4, 2021
After the game, Jamie Carragher argued that he “can’t see Liverpool winning the league if they don’t bring a centre-back in,” and it is certainly a convincing case.