Liverpool are going the distance. And so is their pursuit of the Premier League title. It is a remarkable detail of their season that they will play in every game of the four main competitions, with the Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday week set to be the last one. Before that – and with the domestic cups already secure – they will attempt to complete the third leg of an unprecedented quadruple.
They will still need the league leaders, Manchester City, to slip up at home to Aston Villa on the final day and what a storyline that could be. City have injury problems in defense and one particular Liverpudlian will be keen to capitalize – the Villa manager, Steven Gerrard.
Liverpool will have to beat Wolves at home and hope that City draw or lose but it will go to the wire after Jürgen Klopp’s team proved too strong for Southampton. Klopp rotated heavily, retaining only Alisson and Ibrahima Konaté from the lineup that had started the FA Cup final defeat of Chelsea on Saturday and, for the opening 20 minutes, struggled for their bearings. Southampton were bright and they led through Nathan Redmond.
But thereafter, it was an exercise in Liverpool reeling them in. Takumi Minamino, who was on loan at Southampton last season, got the equalizer and, although Joël Matip’s winner was undercut by good fortune, it was merited on the balance of play.
Klopp had been expected to make changes but perhaps not to this extent. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Sadio Mané were given the night off; Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah missed out with knocks.
It was a balancing act for the manager, the calculation taking in the likelihood of City messing it up on the final day and the possibility of getting injuries ahead of the Champions League final. In the absence of a crystal ball, he backed the strength of his squad.
It was game No 61 of the season for Liverpool, their third since 7 May, when Southampton had last played. The physical strain has been immense. It was about digging deeper, keeping on. Nothing else.
What did Southampton have? It had not been a great deal since the beginning of March. They entered the game having taken just five points from an available 30. But they rocked Liverpool when they took an early lead.
Klopp smoked on the touchline because when Lyanco started the move in the Southampton defensive third, he appeared to go through Diogo Jota to get to the ball. No foul, said the referee, Martin Atkinson. The home team worked it up the left to Redmond via Nathan Tella and it was plain what the winger had in mind. Cut inside and try the curler for the far corner. The shot got there, with the aid of a slight deflection off James Milner.
Southampton’s start was impressive. They were 5-4-1 without the ball, Redmond dropping to left wing-back, Tella to left midfield, but both of them pushed up quickly when they countered. Armando Broja ran the channels.
Liverpool set about repairing the damage. Roberto Firmino thought he had equalized with a header into the far corner from a Kostas Tsimikas free-kick only for the offside flag to go up late against him. Then Minamino did score.
It was an explosive finish from the winger, lashed high into the near, top corner after a neat move that prized Southampton apart. Joe Gomez’s ball in from the right found Jota and his layoff ushered in Minamino. The angle was tight and Minamino’s first two touches took him a little wider. It was no problem. Alex McCarthy could only feel the heat from the finish.
The remainder of the first half was all Liverpool. Milner radiated assurance from the base of the midfield while Firmino was sharp and elusive up front. Liverpool pushed higher, squeezing Southampton, dominating the ball. The home players could not find a way out, although they did largely keep their opponents at arm’s length until the interval.
Milner worked McCarthy from distance and Firmino lashed a rising drive high. In between times, Firmino got on to a deflected Harvey Elliott cross but his attempted cut-back was cleared by Lyanco.
Klopp lost Gomez to an injury at the end of the first half and he re-jigged for the second period; Jordan Henderson on in defensive midfield, Milner to right-back.
Jota wasted a decent chance when he took a cut-back from Tsimikas and dragged wide of the far post and, with Firmino continuing to probe, Liverpool hinted at the next goal. It almost came when Firmino released Elliott but the chipped finish hit the side-netting.
Klopp made an attacking move when he introduced Divock Origi for Elliott and Southampton remained on the back foot. For them, the evening had become about resilience and, when they cracked, it was galling for Ralph Hasenhüttl because Matip did not seem to know an awful lot about his header from him.
Mohamed Elyounoussi had flicked on a Tsimikas corner and Kyle Walker-Peters seemed to head against Matip, who had his feet planted. The ball looped into the far, top corner and it is questionable whether Matip could have placed it any better.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism