Liverpool’s title challenge - and with it their hopes of claiming an unprecedented quadruple - is still alive. Jurgen Klopp’s much-changed side were again forced to recover after conceding an early goal but having demonstratesd qualities of resilience and determination, they will go into Sunday’s final day a point adrift of leaders Manchester City.
Just as they had at Aston Villa in their previous league game, Klopp’s side had to do things the hard way. On this occasion it was Nathan Redmond’s outstanding 13th minute strike that made Liverpool’s task all the harder, but they fought back initially through Takumi Minamino’s 27th minute leveller before Joel Matip headed the winning goal midway through the second half.
Their efforts were all the more impressive coming three days after they beat Chelsea on penalties to lift the FA Cup, prompting Klopp to dig deep into his squad when he named his line-up for this match. Now they must hope they beat Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield and City slip up at home to Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa.
Klopp had made no effort to disguise his frustration at his side’s crowded fixture list ahead of this game. The cup triumph came at the cost of injuries to Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk and Klopp opted to make a further seven changes to his line-up with Alisson, the goalkeeper, and Ibrahim Konate the only survivors from the weekend starting line-up.
This was the Reds’s ninth game in 30 days and seventh successive midweek game in succession and debate before kick-off focussed on the likely impact of making wholesale changes. Certainly Southampton’s recent form suggested Klopp’s reshaped side had little to worry about with Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side having lost seven of their previous ten league games, including the 3-0 defeat at Brentford last time out that saw the manager come in for criticism from some Saints supporters.
The opening stages supported that view with Klopp’s side making the kind of start expected from a team with title ambitions. Harvey Elliott in particular looked lively, but there were also concerning signs that the visitors would take time to bed in with the backline looking particularly disjointed when Southampton did manage to press forward.
Armando Broja, making his last home appearance before returning at the end of his season-long loan from Chelsea, moved past Joel Matip far too easily and it took the alert Alisson to deflect the forward’s angled shot to safety.
Liverpool failed to heed that lesson and moments later they were undone once again, this time on the opposite flank, as Redmond gave Saints a 13th minute lead. Centre-back Lyanco dispossessed Diogo Jota before releasing Redmond from near half way. The winger was then allowed to advance deep into the visitors’s half before cutting inside makeshift right-back Joe Gomez before sending a dipping shot beyond Alisson and into the top corner.
Klopp was convinced Jota had been fouled in the build-up and the manager certainly had a case. No matter, the outcome was that Liverpool’s test of nerve was now also a test of character.
The visitors responded impressively, immediately pressing forward and quickly finding a way past Saints keeper Alex McCarthy when Roberto Firmino met Kostas Tsimikas’s free-kick with a strong header before being flagged offside.
Liverpool’s frustration didn’t last long, though, and they worked their way back on to level terms in the 27th minute when Minamino capped an excellent move with a fine finish.
Matip played the ball out wide to Gomez who delivered the ball into Jota, positioned near the penalty spot. A neat flick by the Portuguese helped the ball into the path of Minamino who took one touch before striking a powerful, rising shot into the roof of the net.
The equaliser came quickly enough to prevent any anxiety creeping in to Liverpool’s play and have drawn level, Klopp’s side maintained their momentum as they began to dominate the game during the remainder of the first half Klopp had been forced to make a change at half-time after Gomez pulled up shortly before the interval, adding to the manager’s end of season injury concerns. On came Jordan Henderson with James Milner moving back to right and the impressive tempo Liverpool had demonstrated before the break was maintained.
Firmino was becoming more and more influential, threading a succession of telling passes between the Southampton defenders to create openings for his team-mates, notably when he set Elliott free early in the second half.
And on the left hand flank, Tsimikas repeatedly pressed forward, finding Jota with a low cross at one point that the forward diverted across the face of goal.
There was a growing inevitability Klopp’s side would add a second and it finally came in the 67th minute when Tsimikis swung in a corner. Mohamed Elyounoussi attempted to head clear at the near post but succeeded only in helping the ball on towards Matip who made contact under close attention from Kyle Walker-Peters.
McCarthy 6; Lyanco 8, Stephens 7, Salisu 6; Walker-Peters 6, Ward-Prowse 6, Diallo 6 (Romeu 71, 6) , Redmond 7; Elyounoussi 6, Broja 6 (Adams 82, 6), Tella 6 (S Armstrong 71, 6)
Caballero, Valery, Bednarek, Djenepo, Long, A Armstrong.
Alisson 7; Gomez 6 (Henderson 46, 6), Matip 6, Konate 7, Tsimikas 7; Elliott 7 (Origi 65,6), Milner 7, Jones 7; Minamino 7 Firmino 8 (Keita 82, 6), Jota 7.
Kelleher, Robertson, Williams, Thiago, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diaz.
Martin Atkinson 6