SOUTHAMPTON — On Sunday at St. Mary’s Liverpool beat Southampton 2-0 in a pivotal match in the race for a top four spot.
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Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling scored the goals to keep Liverpool surging as the Reds are now 10 games unbeaten and are hitting form at the perfect time of the campaign.
Here’s three things we learned from a rain-soaked outing on the south coast of England.
PENALTY APPEALS PIVOTAL
Inside the first 17 seconds a long diagonal ball from Graziano Pelle played in Filip Djuricic who was making his first start in the Premier League. The Serbian playmaker was clean through after evading Lazar Markovic but as Emre Can came across, Djuricic felt a hand on his shoulder and went down, looking towards referee Kevin Friend as he did so. Djuricic went down easily and although there was contact, instead of trying to stay on his feet and slot home he embellished Can’s challenge. No penalty. Moments later Philippe Coutinho put Liverpool 1-0 up with a sensational strike and Djuricic’s decision looked even more foolish.
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Saints had another strong shout for a PK after going behind, as a frantic start played out in the pouring rain at St. Mary’s. Djuricic was again free and Joe Allen clearly took him out before Simon Mignolet saved from Eljero Elia. Just before half time Mignolet cleared a chance with Elia clean through and the Liverpool ‘keeper blocked it with his chest outside the box and the ball then bounced off his arm. Dejan Lovren (booed with venom every time he touched the ball) then looked to handle in the box among a melee and not awarding free kicks for clear fouls on Nathaniel Clyne only incensed the home fans further. As referee Kevin Friend walked off at half time the home supporters stuck around to boo him as they chanted “1-0, to the referee.” It was hard to disagree with that. Friend will not be anybody’s “mate” down in Southampton for quite some time after this performance, as the home side should have had at least one PK but lady luck was not on their side. An early goal for Saints would have changed the entire complexion of the match and they can feel rightly aggrieved.
COUTINHO’S MAGIC PROVES GROWING CLASS
In the third minute Coutinho stunned St Mary’s with a strike of supreme quality. The Reds are now unbeaten in 10 PL games and they are just one point behind Southampton, two behind Manchester United and three behind Arsenal in the race for the top four. It was a professional display from Brendan Rodgers’ side and they scored two goals from just four shots.
Coutinho’s shot in the third minute was a thing of beauty. The Brazilian playmaker picked up the ball 30-yards from goal, took one touch to steady himself and slammed an unstoppable curling effort into the top corner. Take a look for yourself above at the goal of the season contender. Coutinho is coming into his own this season at Anfield as the 22-year-old Brazilian has recently signed a new long-term contract and is fast becoming the Reds’ chief creator. Coutinho couldn’t dictate the tempo of this match as he would have liked with Saints keeping the ball well for long periods, but he gave the Reds a lead to hold onto and that extra bit of quality proved pivotal as Liverpool’s top four hopes continued to rise.
OLD BOYS BOOED, HAVE THE LAST LAUGH
Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren were on the receiving end of venomous reception from the home supporters at St Mary’s on Sunday. Lallana — who had been at Saints since he age of 12 and captained Southampton before leaving for Liverpool in a $40 million deal last summer amid rumors of refusing to play for the club — was on the sharp end of the abuse all afternoon and every time he and Lovren touched the ball the home fans let them know exactly how they felt. It impacted Lallana, you could tell. He was taken off with 30 minutes to go after a forgetful outing. As he said in his piece for NBC SportsWorld last November, Lallana hoped for a good reception but was expecting the jeers and abuse from the fans he adored and vice versa for over a decade.
One man who jumped ship to Liverpool from Southampton last summer was left out of the booing: Rickie Lambert. A hero on the south coast for guiding Saints from the third-tier to the PL, Lambert has hero status for eternity in Southampton. He did not get off the subs bench, and that was probably a good thing to preserve that. Lambert was given a standing ovation after the warmup and Saints fans sung “Rickie Lambert, he wants to come home” in the second half. Lovren (who did what he had to do and had a few shaky moments at the back) and Lallana suffered enough abuse, but in the end they had the last laugh as Liverpool left Southampton with a crucial win.