Southampton come away deserved winners after a terrible Liverpool performance, with selection, execution, and decision-making all proving miserable failures on the day.
Southampton 3: Schneiderlin 6', Lambert 33', Rodriguez 80'
Liverpool 1: Coutinho 45+1'
With Pepe Reina still recovering, the appearance of Brad Jones in the starting eleven wasn't entirely unexpected, but the presence of both Joe Allen and Martin Skrtel was as the former came in for Lucas to join Steven Gerrard, while the latter replaced Jamie Carragher, who missed out with an injured calf. The formation remained the same, though, with only Allen and Gerrard in central midfield and the front four of Stewart Downing, Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, and Philippe Coutinho again getting a run-out together.
And it was, for all intents and purposes, a complete and utter catastrophe. There was no midfield, really, and the back line looked as soft and shaky as they have all season. Southampton carried most of the first half after their opener--which came as a bit of a jolt, with Morgan Schneiderlin left to run into the box by Steven Gerrard and nick past a rooted Brad Jones--dominating in possession and in attack, leaving little doubt as to the side that were more likely to take the lead. Liverpool had little offer, with none of the front four involved other than tracking back, and the midfield content to give away the ball nearly every time they had it.
The host's second goal wasn't any prettier from Liverpool's perspective, as a cheap free-kick deflected off an inexcusably-turning Daniel Sturridge in the wall. The gap really should have been wider by the time Philippe Coutinho clawed one back in first-half injury time, with a number of clear-cut chances in front of goal fizzing just wide or simply not taken. Still, Coutinho gave the visitors a lifeline just before the break, poking in from just outside the six-yard box after Steven Gerrard had headed a terrific Luis Suarez cross back towards goal.
Bringing Lucas on for Joe Allen seemed to continue the momentum in Liverpool's favor, but the chances didn't come, with Southampton gradually suffocating the match and eventually adding to their lead through Jay Rodriguez, who waltzed past Lucas and Martin Skrtel to kill the match off.
The recap can just about end there, as it's not really worth noting that Rodgers decided to bring on Jordan Henderson with less than ten minutes to play and the match already lost. It was a nothing move for a player who'd been among the squad's best and most consistent for most of the winter, now relegated to mop-up duty in a match that was all but settled.
And even though he only played a handful of minutes, he's really at the heart of the criticism of today's miserable production. Maybe he should have started, maybe not. But what's not up for debate is that the player who's glided past him in the depth chart--crocked shoulder and all--shouldn't have been replacing Lucas on the day, let alone Henderson, who's been everything Brendan Rodgers promised and more.
It's just that Rodgers promised it from Joe Allen, and he's now apparently intent on getting it from the Welsh midfielder regardless of the consequences, which only seem to exist for Henderson. It's hard to see past a summer exit to a side where he'll play more regularly, not shunted to the bench for a player who's the manager's pet project and actually given a chance to get a run in a squad without threat of undeservedly being dropped.
Liverpool were set up to fail today, and they did so. Spectacularly, even. The midfield of Allen and Steven Gerrard were invisible as the shape around them remained the same in spite of Lucas' absence, the defense--Brad Jones aside--was a shambles, and most of the front four had a day to forget. Coutinho's goal was nice but he was otherwise anonymous while playing more centrally, Daniel Sturridge disappointed again and failed to link up with Luis Suarez, who found himself wide left more often than is preferred. Of the four, Stewart Downing came away with the most worth talking about, and that was largely due to the fact that he didn't make any huge mistakes in putting in his shift.
The players deserve plenty of the blame, no doubt. Another ineffective and sloppy performance after they'd begun to promise so much with recent performances. But the man in charge deserves just as much, and his baffling decisions on the day certainly don't make another capitulation any easier to stomach.