Kevin Kilbane: Shane Long shines as Liverpool sparkle fades

Off The Ball co-presenter looks at the effects of the last week

BY Kevin Kilbane 15:35 Friday 27 January 2017, 15:35 27 Jan 2017

Image: Southampton's Shane Long, center, scores during the English League Cup semifinal second leg between Liverpool and Southampton at Anfield (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

Shane Long's winner against Liverpool in the EFL Cup on Wednesday was only his third goal this season.

He hasn't been great in front of goal this season but these are the sort of moments that he has often had, especially if you think back to the Germany game for example.

Last season, he had a really good spell after Christmas and it was his top scoring year for Southampton with 10 Premier League goals.

He's not necessarily the one who's going to get 20 goals a season but if he gets around double figures, that's what you expect from him.

Hopefully, the goal against Liverpool can spark the start of a good spell for Long going into Ireland's 2018 World Cup qualifier against Wales in March because he's got to be full of confidence after this.

Jay Rodriguez has been ahead of him in the pecking order of Southampton strikers and so was Charlie Austin before his injury.

But the goal now puts a thought in manager Claude Puel's mind that he can rely on Long and his pace when Southampton have to sit in against better teams.

Hopefully, he can get that good run of games now. 

As for Liverpool, they have Wolves in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday. But after that on Tuesday, they've got a big match against Chelsea at Anfield.

I am little bit worried about them at the moment, particularly after watching them early on this season.

I had seen Liverpool as serious contenders for the title. Of course, everyone would have had doubts about them defensively. And there have been goalkeeping issues as well.

It looks as though Liverpool could be in for Burnley keeper Tom Heaton, a move which suggests that Klopp has no faith at all in either Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius.

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge (left) with manager Jurgen Klopp. Picture by Martin Rickett PA Archive/PA Images

And the depth of the squad is another major issue. Pat Nevin spoke about it on Off The Ball. Just look at the bench sometimes. If Daniel Sturridge is starting, who's going to come on and change the game for them?

They miss Sadio Mané massively. Philippe Coutinho's not quite back firing yet and doesn't look sharp after the injury that he's had which of course takes time.

Out of the front players, only Roberto Firmino - when he plays through the middle - looks to be the only one who can provide a little bit of difference. So they are struggling.

Earlier on this season, they created numerous good chances, they were getting one on ones and if they missed a one on one, you knew they would get another chance. Now you don't see that with Liverpool.

They don't have any penetration without Mané. Sturridge played the full 90 minutes against Southampton but a couple of days earlier against Swansea, he was only brought on in the second half.

The big point why you feel Sturridge isn't in Jurgen Klopp's squad is his reaction when they lose the ball. In contrast, Mané and Firmino would immediately be on the front foot to win it back.

Sturridge when he is at it, there is a slight split-second delay. He doesn't quite have the reaction time of the other two. I still think he's probably the best in the Premier League with his back to goal and how he can manipulate the ball and get himself that little bit of space.

But that's not necessarily what Klopp wants or needs. The manager wants different attributes and aspects of a striker's play. Maybe Sturridge can't play on the left or on the right - he has to play through the middle as a No 9. When you've got Firmino playing in the middle, he can vacate positions that others can fill.

That's why you feel Sturridge won't play if Klopp has the whole of his squad 100% fit.

They are also lacking in various other areas at present. 

Jordan Henderson isn't at it at the moment and while I feel that Emre Can has more to give, he has been incredibly poor over the last month or so.

You look at them as a whole from back to front and Liverpool haven't been firing. At the moment, you're thinking realistically it's a Top Four finish that they have to aim for in the league.

If they get in the Champions League, Klopp will look at it as progress. 

They still have the best record against the Top Six sides but it's just against the Swanseas and the Southamptons - these performances come back to haunt Liverpool. 

I will be at Anfield on Tuesday with live updates from Liverpool vs Chelsea. Tune into Off The Ball from 7pm.

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