Despite having opened the Premier League campaign with a 4-1 thrashing of newly-promoted Norwich City, and then having beaten Chelsea on penalties to lift the European Super Cup in Istanbul, Liverpool have not been thoroughly convincing in these early stages of the new season.
Against both the Canaries and the Blues, Jurgen Klopp’s side looked uncharacteristically shaky at the back. A more clinical side than Norwich might have scored two or three goals in the first half at Anfield. Chelsea also had two strikes ruled out for offside, and were able to cause the Reds a number of scares.
What is surprising is the nature of the chances that both Norwich and Chelsea were able to carve out against Liverpool. Both teams found plenty of joy by running in behind. They exploited the gaps between the Liverpool centre-backs and full-backs. They did this by encouraging their wide players to burst through these spaces, to then be found by passers in deeper lying positions.
Liverpool were particularly adept at fending off these kinds of attacks last season, as the relationships between their wide and central defenders were so cohesive. The members of Liverpool’s back four has not changed over the summer, though the loss of goalkeeper Alisson to injury may have added some confusion. In any case, Liverpool look surprisingly vulnerable right now.
Southampton have the kinds of players needed to exploit this weakness. The pace of Nathan Redmond and Che Adams makes them ideal candidates as runners, tasked with trying to get in behind the Liverpool back line. The Saints’ playmakers, such as James Ward-Prowse and Stuart Armstrong, should then seek to pick out their runs. These tactics would give Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team an outside chance of pulling off a shock result against Liverpool at St Mary’s Stadium on Saturday.