Sadio Mane, Phillipe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, and even Nathaniel Clyne all tried and failed to beat Forster, as Georginio Wijnaldum described it “as one of those days”.
For Liverpool there was some consolation, though, after recording their first clean sheet on the road at the 12th time asking. Southampton’s holding midfielders in particular, Oriol Romeu and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, relished carrying out the dirty work against the Premier League’s pacesetters. Steven Davis, perhaps the most underrated player in the top flight, also mucked in to ensure a frustrating afternoon for Klopp, who headed down the tunnel soaked through in his waterproof coat at the final whistle.
The Saints back line, led by captain Jose Fonte alongside the outstanding Virgil van Dijk, both performed vital last-ditch blocks on Coutinho and Mane, respectively. Though Liverpool were foiled time and again, Klopp was pleased his players did not become flustered.
“I don’t think they had a lot of fun today but that’s the one job they have to do,” he said.
“We cannot change what other teams do. A lot of teams play against us like this, we move on. I don’t know what they think. We are hard to stop unfortunately. The only thing we have to make sure is that it isn’t [difficult to score] because of us. That is what I am so happy about, the players are concentrating and staying in games like this when it doesn’t work. We have to stay in the game and not let them attack.”
Claude Puel, the Southampton manager, said he had not planned to operate so defensively, with Charlie Austin often isolated in attack, but that the hosts were forced into repelling Liverpool’s advances time and again. When Austin did rise above Clyne on the hour mark, he failed to properly connect with Cedric Soares’s cross and nodded wide. As a result, Southampton did not register a single shot on target in a Premier League match for the first time since 2004.
Sofiane Boufal, making his first Premier League start since arriving from Lille over the summer, was eventually replaced by Shane Long, the Republic of Ireland star, who made his comeback from a hamstring injury. Boufal’s trickery had no place in a game in which every Southampton player was forced into defending at times.
The giant frame of Forster was not to be beaten, with his huge right-hand twice denying Mane on his first appearance at St Mary’s since swapping the south coast for Anfield. Adam Lallana was absent through injury but Dejan Lovren, another former Southampton player, starred in defence for Klopp’s side but was harangued throughout by home supporters.
If any defender stood out in this stalemate, it was Van Dijk, the Dutchman who again excelled in the centre of defence and in truth probably ensured Southampton a point. “Every game, it’s not a surprise, it is not amazing, since the beginning of the season he’s been fantastic,” said Puel of the former Celtic defender’s man of the match display.
“He is with us for now, I enjoy working with this player in the squad and I hope for the future also,” said Puel when asked if they can keep the defender who has five years to run on a six-year contract.
Liverpool have, after all, signed £100m of talent from Southampton over the past couple of years. “The club want to keep a good ambition in the Premier League. All of the players can make progress and improve, it’s the philosophy of the club. It’s important for Southampton to develop all of these players.”
Forster 7; Soares 7, Fonte 7, Van Dijk 8, Bertrand 7; Romeu 8, Hojbjerg 7 (Reed, 78 6); Davis 7, Boufal 5 (Long, 66 5), Redmond 6; Austin 5 (Rodriguez, 75 6)
Taylor, Yoshida, Clasie, Martina.
Karius 6; Clyne 7, Lovren 7, Matip 7, Milner 6; Can 7 (Sturridge, 78 6), Henderson 7; Wijnaldum 8, Coutinho 7, Mane 6 (Origi, 90 5); Firmino 6.
Mignolet, Grujic, Klavan, Moreno, Leiva