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If anyone at or around Anfield was getting too excited about four successive victories and the outside chance of a top-four finish, Saturday's defeat at Southampton was a blast of cold reality. Brendan Rodgers, the manager, saw it as a useful reminder that rebuilding a team is not an overnight job, and while he will not be going back to the drawing board, he recognises that plenty of work remains to be done.
Unfortunately, that will have to wait while all but seven of his squad disappear on the international break, but he hopes they can use some of the time to assess the step back taken at St Mary's after what had appeared to be several steps forward.
“Maybe you've just got to go away and reflect on the last few weeks,” he said. “Because it's important for us to maintain the efforts that we have been putting in that have got us results. We let those standards slip a wee bit so we just need to get back now and refocus on that and I'm sure we'll see a different side against Villa.”
He will be especially concerned that they do not repeat the slow start on Saturday that allowed Southampton to take a 2-0 lead that they were unable to recover. It takes time, he suggested, to build that resilience into a refashioned side. “We're a team that is not quite on that level yet,” he said. “We need to be right on it every game to get results and unfortunately today we suffered.”
However, Rodgers argued that the result should be seen in the wider context of general improvement. “We had it last week against Tottenham when we went 2-1 behind [and won 3-2]. Especially in the second half of the season there's been a real upturn in terms of performance level. The players have been outstanding. This was just one of those days. Every team has them. We just didn't perform anywhere near what we have been. And, having said that, we could have scored three or four goals. So we just have to go away now, lick our wounds, and sit on it for a couple of weeks and get back to winning ways.”
The influence of the injured Jamie Carragher was badly missed at the back, while Luis Suarez, mesmerising recently, was starved of service. But as Rodgers said, they still made chances and Mauricio Pochettino's high-pressing Southampton side, although dynamic going forward, still found the straightforward ball over the top difficult to defend.
It is also a concern for the Argentinian that Saints raised their game to beat Manchester City and Liverpool but lost to QPR and Newcastle. It is one he will address. “It just goes to show that football is based on your mental attitude in every single game you play,” he said.
“We have to make sure that in every single game we play, not just these two games, that we have the same hunger and mentality to always go out for the win.”
SOUTHAMPTON 3LIVERPOOL 1Goals: Southampton Schneiderlin 6, Lambert 33, Rodriguez 80. Liverpool Coutinho 45+1.
Substitutions: Southampton Fonte 5 (Hooiveld, 32), Davis (Ramirez, 55), Guly (Lallana, 84). Liverpool Lucas (Allen, HT), Henderson (Sturridge, 84).
Bookings: Liverpool Suarez.
Man of the match Rodriguez.
Match rating 8/10.
Possession: Southampton 48%. Liverpool 52%.
Attempts on target: Southampton 11. Liverpool 5.
Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire).
Attendance 32,070. – The Independent