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 Posted by Chris Rann
Aug 18, 2014

Narrow defeat bodes well for Saints

The ESPN FC panel react to Southampton's feisty performance in their narrow defeat by Liverpool.

Given all the pre-match hype surrounding the meeting between Ronald Koeman's new-look Southampton team and Brendan Rodgers' slightly new-look Liverpool, you could be forgiven for thinking the game might disappoint.

It certainly didn't, and it turned out to be quite the world apart from the one-sided affair the media would have had you believe it would be. What actually transpired was an evenly matched game between two decent sides. Sure, the home side were the favourites and ultimately they did triumph 2-1, but the men in red will have certainly known they were in a game and one they could quite easily have lost.

Saints were far better than anyone expected despite having the core of their side ripped out over the summer (predominantly by their Anfield opponents) and having four players making their debut. They played some fantastic football; two of the debutants, Ryan Bertrand and Dusan Tadic, shone as they gave the hosts constant problems on the left, the brightest outlet for the away side in a first half in which they ended behind. I mentioned in my preview that the directness and pace of Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge was likely to be the biggest threat to Koeman's defence and it was Jordan Henderson's fantastic pass that found the former, whose speed did the rest.

In the second half, though, the visitors came into their own, with Tadic pulling the strings and Victor Wanyama making sure that Steven Gerrard and Lucas were little more than spectators. It was Tadic's ingenuity that created the Saints equaliser, a neat flicked back heel leaving ex-Saint Dejan Lovren for dead and allowing Nathaniel Clyne to smash the goal of the weekend past Simon Mignolet. If Mauricio Pochettino's side suffered last season with not taking their chances, then Koeman has inherited the problem. Having drawn level, a rampant Southampton looked to turn the screw on their opponents, but Steven Davis missed a golden opportunity to give them the lead.

Dusan Tadic impressed for new-look Southampton in a narrow, but positive, defeat.
Dusan Tadic impressed for new-look Southampton in a narrow, but positive, defeat.

Liverpool were rocked but like all good sides, they had the ability to break Saints' hearts as Sturridge did with a simple finish. If Davis' earlier missed "sitter" had been frustrating, substitute Shane Long's miss to snatch a point was even harder to stomach and as a result, the travelling side had to make do with plenty of plaudits but no points.

Bearing in mind that this was a side yet to jell and lacking in Premier League experience, in one of its toughest fixtures of the season, there were plenty of positives for Koeman and his coaching staff to take from the game. With many pundits predicting a whitewash in favour of the home side and a season that would ultimately end in relegation, Sunday's game was a nice way to open the campaign, if ultimately fruitless.

Koeman scoffed at suggestions the club would struggle at the bottom of the table this season, and on this performance you can see why. Saints are turning heads again, the points will undoubtedly come.

Chris Rann

Chris Rann is a football-obsessed Southampton fan who runs the blog georgeweahscousin, which made the four-site shortlist for the 2012 football blogging awards. He has also written for many leading sites and magazines. Follow him on Twitter @crstig.

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