It was absolutely imperative for Liverpool to beat Southampton at Anfield on Saturday as they sought to improve their feeble chances of playing in the Champions League next season, and strikes from Sadio Mane in the 31st minute and Thiago Alcantara in the 90th made sure they did.
The Salah-Mane connection
Given that Liverpool were known until a few years ago as a club whose top aspirations were
continually hindered by their best players leaving them in crucial moments (Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling, Phillippe Coutinho), it’s only natural that the exploits of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have attracted all sorts of rumours ever since. Both have been linked with other top clubs across Europe on multiple occasions, and the occasional flashes of a lack of cooperation between them on the pitch did nothing to ease the speculation.
The pair of excellent attackers combined to score a goal for the first time this season on Saturday, as Mane rose in the air to head home a cross whipped in by Salah, giving the Merseysiders the lead in the first half.
Salah and Mane may be competitors as Liverpool’s two most dangerous forwards, and their relationship may not be the best possible, but the fact remains that they are both supreme professionals who continuously give their all for the famous Red shirt, and that fact proved crucial against the Saints.
Alisson back to best?
It wasn’t all going Liverpool’s way in this game, not by a long shot. Even though they secured a relatively timely lead, there were vibes of their previous two matches, 1-1 draws against Leeds United and Newcastle, giving out a strong feeling that the contest could yet end with another two points dropped.
Southampton certainly had their share of chances. Che Adams, Nathan Tela and substitute Ibrahima Diallo all came very close to scoring, but it seemed it simply wasn’t a day on which Alisson Becker would allow himself to get beaten. The Brazilian made a total of six saves, most of them far from easy, especially when the Saints broke through down the right in the first half and Tela squared the ball for the incoming Adams, but Alisson stepped up quickly and blocked Adams’ attempt at a chipped finish, before catching Redmond’s follow-up shot with the confidence of the supreme goalkeeper he is.
Alisson did make a mistake in the second half, passing the ball straight into the feet of Adams, but he made amends with another brilliant save as Adams tried to put it past him quickly.
It should be said that Fraser Forster at the other end had a very good game as well, and his team might have lost more convincingly had it not been so. The 33-year-old produced fine saves to deny Salah and Diogo Jota several times. Also, the Saints seemed to be missing former Liverpool striker Danny Ings a lot.
Liverpool maintain control late on
It shouldn’t really be something worth discussing much when talking about a top team, but Liverool boss Jurgen Klopp will have been pleased with the way his players kept a tight grip on the proceedings late on, rewarded eventually with the second goal, given the way they relinquished one-goal leads against Leeds and Newcastle.
In those matches, they completely fell back to defend in and around their own box in the final minutes, which turned costly as Diego Llorente and Joe Willock significantly reduced their chances of a top-four finish. Had they managed to win on those occasions, Liverpool would now be sitting fifth with 61 points, just two less than Leicester City in fourth who have three very difficult matches left to play. As it is, they are sixth with 57 points, and West Ham in fifth will move further away if they beat Everton at the London Stadium on Sunday.
This time, however, Liverpool pressed high in the late stages of the game and prevented the visitors from organizing a proper attack. The second-half introduction of Roberto Firmino seemed very important in that aspect.
With significant help from Mane, the Brazilian forward won the ball high up in the final minute of the 90 and passed it on to Thiago, whose curved effort from just outside the box earned the former Bayern midfielder his first goal in a Liverpool shirt and put the contest well beyond the reach of Southampton.
The challenges ahead
Liverpool now face a tough schedule. On Thursday, they play Manchester United in the postponed match at Old Trafford, before travelling to West Bromwich on Sunday. Then it’s a trip to Turf Moor to play Burnley the following Wednesday, and Crystal Palace are coming to Anfield on the final matchday of the campaign.
As for Southampton, they obviously failed to mathematically secure survival this time around,
but their place in the Premier League next season is not likely to be questioned. They will have another chance, a more realistic one, when Crystal Palace come to St. Mary’s on Tuesday. But if West Brom fail to beat Arsenal today (Sunday) at the Emirates and Fulham lose to Burnley at Craven Cottage on Monday, even the current tally of 37 points will be enough for Ralph Hasenhuttl and his team.