The door remains ajar. Jürgen Klopp knows that this is there last chance to take advantage.
With Leicester and Tottenham both faltering earlier in the weekend – and with two games in hand against the Foxes – an opportunity is there for the Reds to scrape into that fourth spot. However, they are going to need to be perfect from now until the end of the season, whilst hoping some old enemies do them some favours.
A win against Southampton was vital. It is last chance saloon for the defending Premier League Champions – who will likely lose this crown during the upcoming midweek fixtures – in a season where they have let several opportunities pass them by. Any errors and it is goodbye Champions League football next season.
This perfect run in needed to start in this game, but like much of the past five months, the first 20 minutes continued a similar and painful trend. A lack of attacking threat up top – accompanied by some open defending – saw Klopp once again frustrated by his sides inability to kick into some kind of form.
As the home side struggled for some kind of consistency, Southampton worked there way into the game. Chances fell to Nathan Tella and Nathan Redmond – the latter a superb close range instinctive save by Alisson – but neither converted. As it would be, the one person who had started the game well, started the move that would give his side the lead.
After his impressive save to deny Redmond, Alisson’s brilliant distribution kicked off the move that would eventually find it’s way to Salah at the edge of the Saints box. With supreme accuracy, the Egyptian wonderfully floated the ball to the back post, where Sadio Mané was perfectly placed to head home.
Despite gaining the lead and having the vast majority of possession for the remainder of the game, as in recent games, it never felt like Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side where truly out of it, as Liverpool failed to kill the contest.
Come the second half, Liverpool only mustered half chances at best, whilst the growing confidence in the Southampton team saw major chances start to materialise. However, the home team was again indebted to Alisson, as he made several more key stops to retain his sides slim advantage.
His efforts would be rewarded – accompanied by a major sigh of relief on Merseyside – as in the final moments Thiago Alcântara scored his first goal for the club, in front of an empty Kop, to end the contest and give Klopp’s side a confidence boosting three points.
Having relinquished leads late against Leeds and Newcastle most recently, this will have been in the back of the mind of many a fan and player. Thiago had other ideas, as a sublime first touch and darting run inside set him up perfectly to deliciously curl home past Fraser Forster in the dying minutes.
“It was a big one for us” as Klopp put it after the final whistle. It was major in so many ways and hopefully, it could be the catalyst for something great for the remainder of the season. But like I touched upon earlier, the Reds will need to be perfect.
Despite the positive result, Liverpool will have to play much better when they travel to Old Trafford on Thursday evening. Klopp will know this and instil a message in his players that this is only the first of five wins needed. With Solskjær’s side in good form themselves – having made the Europa League final – but tackling a congested fixture schedule, the Reds need to take advantage.
Klopp made two changes from the side who drew against Newcastle last time out. With Ozan Kabak suffering a minor injury during the week, Rhys Williams came into centre half, where he partnered the fit again Nat Phillips, who came into the side for Roberto Firmino, with Fabinho returning to his position in the heart of the Liverpool midfield.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
AlissonEmbed from Getty Images
Without the big Brazilian in goal, the Reds would have lost this game and by some margin. He continues to repay the mammoth transfer fee the Reds paid for him nearly three years ago, and shows that every single penny counted.
Throughout all the troubles at the back during the season with differing centre backs and defensive partnerships a weekly occurrence now, he has been the ever present that has stabilised everything, keeping his team in the matches most of the time. He continues to make world class saves week after week, seemingly unfazed by the disorder in front of him most weeks.
His save in the first half to deny Che Adams was instinctive and showed how brilliantly he reads the game. Then during the second period, he made a handful of impressive stops and moves to deny goal scoring opportunities when a Saints leveller seemed to be incoming. His distribution was once again on point, with his pass leading to the first goal particularly impressive, whilst his leadership in directing Phillips and the young Rhys Williams was perfect.
The 28-year-old is growing into a major leader in this team and it showed in this game despite not wearing the armband. He truly led from the front and came up with the goods big time when he needed to. With Manchester United on the horizon, he will need to continue at these lofty heights if Klopp’s side are to walk away with a vital win in midweek.
Thiago AlcântaraEmbed from Getty Images
After a sloppy start which saw several forced passes intercepted, he found the sweet spot and plotted his way through the game in such an efficient manner. This is the Thiago the Reds have wanted all season, yet he has been denied his chance to shine properly because of the injuries to him, others and the ever-changing environment of the team around him.
He truly waltzed around the Anfield pitch during the evening, enjoying his battle with Ward-Prowse and Stuart Armstrong as he took the attack to them. At times he was caught out by the pace of others but quickly made up for it by tracking back and being defensively sound when called upon.
From an attacking point of view, he stabilised the moves forward, building the foundations for others to join the strikers when attempting to score, however his good work would regularly be wasted by a stray pass or adventurous shot by others around him, meaning a return to his defensive duties.
We haven’t seen much of him as a goalscoring threat this season due to the situation, but he showed in the closing minutes what he is capable of with a clinical finish to seal the victory for the home team. His first goal for Liverpool epitomised him as a player and his general performance on the night – oozing class.
Like I have said in several winners and losers’ articles throughout this campaign, we will likely see the best of the Spanish international next season. With a fully fit squad, he will be able to have maximum effect on this team in what will likely be another shot at the Premier League title. Whether that includes a charge at Champions League glory as well remains to be seen, but Thiago’s performances will be paramount for the final few games if Klopp’s side are to venture into Europe’s premier club competition next season.
Gini WijnaldumEmbed from Getty Images
The Dutchman was once again passive in his performance and struggled to really integrate himself into the contest. He seems to now lose battles with opposition players that earlier in the season he was winning, with his effectiveness on games now close to zero.
This could all be down to his impending exit from Anfield that – unless a miraculous agreement is found in the coming month – he will be playing his football elsewhere next season. This is not to say he isn’t trying hard, but he looks like he wants to avoid any major injuries that could cost him his next move.
A prime example of this was during the first period, where he simply jumped over a sliding tackle from Ward-Prowse, when it would have been easier to walk around him with the ball. His defensive work also looks to have dried up, with no crunching tackles being put in, instead he simply lets players run past like he did with Nathan Tella and Kyle Walker-Peters several times during the game.
He has provided many positives during his time at Anfield, with some major highs and a healthy trophy haul to boot. However, it is clear to see that his much-rumoured impending exit is happening and it is clearly affecting his performances. With this in mind, a change in midfield might be in order to keep the intensity up with the stakes high heading into the final few fixtures.
Don’t miss a thing
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox. It’s free!