By Matt Ramirez – @Matt_J_Ramirez
Liverpool returned to the summit of the Premier League after a comprehensive 3-1 win away at Southampton. Mohamed Salah and Jordan Henderson completed the romp after Naby Keita grabbed his first goal for the club.
Jürgen Klopp made two changes from the side that triumphed over Tottenham on Sunday. Both Jordan Henderson and James Milner returned to the bench, with Fabinho and Naby Keita being preferred from the start – with Keita’s last start coming in a 0-0 draw with Bayern Munich back in February.
The home crowd seemed fired up from the start, chanting loudly, cheering every tackle and booing former captain Virgil van Dijk at every opportunity. The chanting soon changed to celebration for the capacity home crowd, with the Saints taking the lead in the ninth minute.
A Ryan Bertrand cross seemed easy enough to deal with, however, a flick on by Pierre Hojbjerg caused all kinds of confusion in the Liverpool area. The Southampton skipper climbed high and flicked it over Andrew Robertson and into the feet of Shane Long.
The Irishman found himself all alone in front of Alisson and simply needed to pick his spot as he notched his 50th Premier League goal of his career.
The goal only seemed to invigorate the home side, who had already started the game with more intensity then Klopp’s men. Despite having over 70% of the possession in the opening minutes, the travelling Reds were unable to trouble the home side’s defence – only causing danger for the first time on the 15th minute with a headed effort from Mané.
After scoring the goal, the Southampton game plan was clear to see. The Saints side plopped 11 men behind the ball, hoofing the ball clear back to Liverpool’s centre halves whenever possession was won back.
Southampton’s wall of defence held until the 36th minute, when it was breached by Keita who nodded home his first goal for the club.
Liverpool had been slowly increasing the pressure on the South Coast side, almost scoring seconds earlier through Salah. The Egyptian threw himself at a cross but was unable to make any contact. Trent Alexander-Arnold kept the ball in play, swinging in a cross of his own which found the head of Keita.
Despite his small stature, the Guinean climbed highest and nodded the ball downwards and into the bottom left corner of Angus Gunn’s net. After trailing for 27 minutes, Klopp had his equaliser and Liverpool fans were finally cheering a goal from a No.8 again.
Liverpool kept the pressure on the home side for the remainder of the half but were unable to go ahead before the halftime break.
Southampton initiated the second half in the same fashion in which they started the match, playing an intense, high-pressured game and allowing Liverpool no time on the ball – particularly finding joy round Liverpool’s right-flank, with Nathan Redmond looking the most dangerous player on the pitch.
Liverpool, who took their time to wake up after the half-time break, slowly began to cause the Saints defence trouble and arguably should have had a penalty. Keita linked up well with Mané and broke through the heart of the Southampton defence.
Maya Yoshida seemed to illegally bring down the marauding midfielder, but the referee saw nothing wrong and play was allowed to continue.
Klopp soon brought on Jordan Henderson and James Milner for Alexander-Arnold and Gini Wijnaldum in an attempt to add some intensity to his side.
The substitutions seemed to work for the travelling side as they ramped up the pressure on the Saints as the Reds went in search of all three points. Unfortunately for Liverpool, at every attempt Southampton players began to waste time, with Ryan Bertrand in particular finding himself in the referee’s book.
Despite this, Liverpool found a way to inflict their own punishment on the home side, scoring a breakaway goal from a Southampton corner. A valiant tackle from Mané saw the ball bobble to Henderson who nodded it into the path of Salah. The Egyptian proceeded to dribble from inside in his own half with Roberto Firmino in support.
As the home defenders retreated in support, Salah unleashed a placed left foot effort which curled away from the diving Gunn, nestling into the bottom right corner of his net. The number 11 pulled away shirtless as he celebrated his 50th goal for Liverpool and what seemed to be the winner in the 80th minute.
However, the Reds weren’t finished yet.
A Joel Matip long ball forward found the ever industrious Firmino hot in pursuit. The Brazilian outmuscled Jan Bednarek to recover the ball on the edge of the area. He curled the ball early into the box for an on-rushing Henderson, who arrived unmarked and out of nowhere.
The skipper proceeded to drill the ball first-time into the back of Gunn’s net, simultaneously securing all three points for the Reds and silencing his critics in the 86th minute.
Liverpool held out the remaining minutes and now find themselves back on top in the Premier League. The next port of call for Klopp is the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 draw at Anfield. Porto are the visitors, and following Liverpool’s 5-0 demolition of the side last year, confidence will be high.