Liverpool keep alive faint Champions League hopes with nervy win over Southampton

·22-min read
Thiago celebrates the winner at Anfield, his first goal for Liverpool   - GETTY IMAGES
Thiago celebrates the winner at Anfield, his first goal for Liverpool - GETTY IMAGES
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  • Mane's first strike since December and Thiago's first for Liverpool give hosts the three points

  • It was an edgy performance but win gets them to within six points of the top four with a game in hand

Just when they think they are out, they are pulled back in.

Liverpool’s ambitions of playing in next year’s Champions League looked over not-so-long ago. After a nervy victory over Southampton, they are clinging on in the top four race, albeit they need favours from elsewhere in the remaining four games.

It’s a fair summing up of Liverpool’s campaign that their European qualification hopes have been advanced over the last two weeks without them actually playing.

Chelsea might be out of sight, but in Liverpool’s enforced absence due to last weekend’s postponement against Manchester United, Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur’s frailties have proved particularly accommodating, luring Klopp’s side back into contention.

Finally, Klopp’s players kept their side of the bargain, too, helping their own cause with a curiously rare home win, the 2-0 victory preserving extra meaning for that rearranged Old Trafford trip.

“It was a big one for us. We really needed that,” said the Liverpool coach.

“What it means for our top four hopes is they are still alive. The other teams are still in a better position, but we will give it a try.”

Not that this was especially convincing. When Alisson Becker is named man-of-the-match at Anfield it is tribute to the attacking courage of the opposition.

Liverpool’s goals came from Sadio Mane, who scored against his old club in the first half and Thiago Alcantara, who struck his first for his new one in injury time to end an anxious second-half.

Mane leaps high to head in the opener on a nervy night for Liverpool  - PA
Mane leaps high to head in the opener on a nervy night for Liverpool - PA

Until Thiago picked out the bottom corner, Klopp must have felt like he was stuck in a time loop as this fixture played out with an unerring familiarity.

Whatever you remember about last year’s Liverpool, imagine the opposite now; they are defensively vulnerable, have lost their killer instinct, are psychologically fragile, and are often guilty of game mismanagement rather than easing towards full-time when protecting a narrow lead.

Some of the reasons for that are obvious. The last time these sides met, Saints boss Ralph Hassenhutl was reduced to tears in victory. There is probably a similar reaction from Klopp every time he hears a medical bulletin before a matchday. Even the sixth choice centre-backs are picking up injuries now, on-loan Ozan Kabak the latest to be stricken forcing Klopp to pair Nat Phillips and teenager Rhys Williams for only the second time this season.

The inexperienced duo performed admirably in their individual battles, but structurally the absence of Virgil van Dijk still makes this side unrecognisable.

The unease was excruciating to witness until Thiago ended the Saints increasing optimism they could take a point, the ball seeming to turn into a hand grenade as Klopp’s players saw in the closing minutes with a sense of foreboding.

Southampton performed with a fearlessness evident in every Anfield visitor in 2021. At times it seemed Hassenhutl had set-up with an ambitious 4-2-4, pushing on with a series of cavalry charges to feed off understandable jitters.

That made for an entertaining, albeit imperfect game. Has any Premier League this season been anything else? You felt a goal could come with each attack, and not always because of the quality.

A full-time score of 6-3 might have been an accurate reflection of the shifting balance, both teams comfortable with the ball but susceptible without it.

Alisson first saved courageously on 30 minutes - a minute before Liverpool scored - when making Che Adams blink first in a one-on-one after Nathan Tella’s delivery. Tella was persistently dangerous on the counter-attack and should have connected better from a Nathan Redmond cross when pursuing an equaliser, and every time James Ward-Prowse lines up a set-piece the opposition bench has palpitations.

Adams squandered the easiest opportunity when Alisson gave him the ball in his penalty area with 15 minutes remaining.

The Brazilian keeper managed to make amends, grasping Adams’ tame attempt.

Alisson was named man of the match having made some fine saves, such as this one from Che Adams - AFP
Alisson was named man of the match having made some fine saves, such as this one from Che Adams - AFP

“When you create the chances we did you must take something,” said Hassenhutl.

“The difference is one team was two times clinical and we could not score. It’s really disappointing.”

In fairness, Klopp would have been saying the same had Liverpool not won, his team’s issues accentuated by failure to impose their superiority on the ball.

Only one chance was taken in the first half when Mane’s header converted Mohamed Salah’s cross. The fact that was Mane’s first Anfield goal since December partially explains why Liverpool began the evening in 7th.

The opening goal should not have been so long coming, Mane wasting the first opportunity on ten minutes when he struck over from the edge of the penalty area. Salah was twice denied by Fraser Forster, Diogo Jota also striking directly at the Saints keeper. Phillips headed narrowly wide and Gini Wijnaldum did so against the crossbar.

Even after Salah’s assist, he hesitated when sent clean through and was crowded out of the chance to double Liverpool’s lead.

With his defence looking so fragile, Klopp could not count on one being enough.

“Scoring that second was a big relief,” said the Liverpool coach.

His team still has plenty of catching up to do, but at least they are getting closer in that rear view mirror.

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09:08 PM

FULL TIME: Liverpool 2-0 Southampton

It was neither easy nor overly pretty but Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp won't mind about that. They needed to win and did just that.

Southampton played well and had their chances but the hosts take the points and keep their Champions League hopes alive, just...

09:06 PM

92 mins: Liverpool 2-0 Southampton

As if to illustrate that this has been by far a simple win for Liverpool, Alisson is named man of the match, The Brazilian has made six saves, none more important that the fine stop from Adams at 0-0.

09:03 PM

GOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLL!!! Liverpool 2-0 Southampton

Thiago scores his first goal for Liverpool and secures the win!

The midfielder glides into a shooting position and with nothing on fires from 20 yards into the bottom corner. It was a fine finish and means there will be no nervy last few minutes at Anfield.

09:02 PM

88 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Two minutes left, Liverpool still have the slender one-goal lead. Can they hold on to keep their slim hopes of Champions League football next season alive?

09:00 PM

86 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

AOC (for clarification's sake that's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain not the Democratic congresswoman for the Bronx, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez...) comes on for Salah while Southampton's Walker-Peter's is treated to for a knock on the knee.

08:57 PM

84 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Walker-Peters fires in a low cross that was destined for the boot of Obafemi in the six-yard box but Phillps, who's had a good game, gets in an importance interception.

08:54 PM

81 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Mane finds the back of the net with a first-time volley just outside the six-yard box BUT the flag is off and there'll be no tiresome VAR check as from the naked eye you could tell he was at least a metre beyond the last man.

08:53 PM

79 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Salah cuts the ball back for Jota but it's behind the Portuguese and he cannot get his shot on target.

It's his last contribution as he makes way for Firmino.

For Southampton Adams comes off for Djenepo

08:50 PM

77 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Alisson saves the ball and his bacon. The Liverpool keeper passes it out straight to Adams who takes a touch before shooting, It's somewhat of a feeble attempt and the Brazilian can save without too much fuss.

08:49 PM

76 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Southampton may have conceded 60 goals this season but they have looked assured this half. Liverpool, to be fair, haven't posed too many problems.

08:46 PM

74 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

The hosts are living dangerously at the moment, they're struggling to create much and Southampton are gorwing in confidence.

08:45 PM

72 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Another save from Alisson!

The ball comes in off the left, Obafemi nods it down to Diallo whose first-time volley stings the hands of the Liverpool keeper.

08:42 PM

70 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Walker-Peters comes in off the right and fires a shot from distance that is blocked - Southampton currently look like the more likely to score.

08:41 PM

67 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Great play from Southampton as Adams comes in off the left and plays in Obafemi whose touch takes it away from Allison, but the keeper saves well with his feet.

Liverpool need this second goal and soon...

08:39 PM

65 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

The visitors make a double substitution.

Obafemi and Diallo are on and Tella and Walcott are off.

08:36 PM

62 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Adams dinks in a ball over TAA and Tella is in one goal but he is ultimately crowded out and cannot get a shot in on goal.

Southampton will continue to get chances like that to score.

08:34 PM

60 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Fabinho tries to play in Mane but his pass goes out.

Liverpool still lack intensity to their game and Southampton are still well in this game and will fancy their chances of getting something the longer the scoreline stays the same and the hosts stay flat.

08:30 PM

57 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Free kick for Southampton after Thiago catches Redmond.

It's very much in Ward-Prowse territory but his whipped cross is claimed by Alisson. He's had a number of chances to create havoc with his set pieces deliveries so far but hasn't been able to create chaos.

08:26 PM

55 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Not sure whether the lack of fans has anything to do with it but this match is flat - for all the good saves by Alisson and Forster there is a limp feel to this clash so far.

08:25 PM

52 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Liverpool's press is making it hard for Southampton to get out of their half. Liverpool get the ball in the opposition half but between them Thiago and TAA cannot get two crosses into the box for the champions.

08:23 PM

49 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

The hosts pass it around nicely - it's all in front of Southampton until Jota darts into the box before firing in a shot with his left that goes wide via a Forster hand.

From the corner Phillips gets in a header that loops harmlessly over the bar.

08:20 PM

47 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Southampton had enough chances in the first half to think they can get something out of this game. They need to be positive as this season has shown Liverpool can be got at at Anfield.

08:18 PM

45 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

We're back under way at Anfield.

Liverpool may be leading but they need to add some intensity during this second period. As Micah Richards says in the Sky Spoorts studio, they've been a bit dull so far.

In the hosts favour is the fact that Southampton have lost eight of their past nine games on the road.

08:09 PM

Jumping for joy

Mane showed great athleticism to head Liverpool into the lead - great run and finish.

Sadio Mane 
Sadio Mane

08:05 PM

HALF TIME: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

There was one major minute that defined this half. Alisson made a great stop to deny Adams before the ball went down the other end of the pitch where Salah set up Mane to score against his former side.

It's not been a match to get you out of your seats or sofas but Liverpool are just about deservedly shading it at the moment.

08:01 PM

44 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Tella has a great chance. The ball comes in from Redmond on the left and Tella has a free header that he turns into catching practice for Allison. Should have done much better with that attempt.

07:59 PM

Welcome home Mane

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07:58 PM

40 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Walcott is going nowhere and Mane helps him out by fouling him.

Ward-Prowse now has a good opportunity to put in a good cross from the right-hand byline. It's whipped in but a Liverpool head clears the threat.

07:56 PM

38 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Southampton see the ball for a bit - they pass it around but cannot fashion anything resembling a clearcut chance.

07:53 PM

35 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

Salah nearly makes it two - he cuts in off the left and possibly pulls the trigger too late as his shot is blocked. by a a combo of Vestergaard and Forster.

This is more like Liverpool of old, they're looking more threatening with every attack.

07:52 PM

Here's a stunning stat that partly explains Liverpool's poor season

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07:50 PM

33 mins: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

That goal should calm any nerves Liverpool had - especially after that Adams chance was well saved by Alisson. Can they go on from here?

07:48 PM

GOOOOOOOAAAAAALLL!!!! Liverpool 1-0 Southampton

The ball goes quickly to the other end of the pitch and a Salah cross to the back post is met by Mane and he makes no mistake.

It's his first goal at Anfield since December and it came 48 seconds after Allison's save.

07:47 PM

28 mins: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

Great chance for Southampton!

They break on the right with Tella whose low cross is met first time by Adams, BUT his shot is brilliantly saved by the onrushing Alisson.

07:42 PM

25 mins: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

The ball stays up in the final third and comes to Salah whose first-time shot is again well saved by the Southampton keeper. From the resulting corner Wijnaldum gets in a great header (having outjumped Vestergaard) that clips the crossbar. Liverpool are dominant.

07:40 PM

22 mins: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

Liverpool have a free kick inside the visitors' half. From the set piece they pass it around nicely, it's pleasing on the eye and patient. Robertson fizzes one in to Mane who does well going wide before backheeling for Jota who comes inside and forces Forster into a good save. Much better from the hosts.

07:36 PM

20 mins: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

The hosts are getting on top. TAA this time gets in a cross that Forster comes to collect. No real quality for either side in the final third so far.

07:35 PM

18 mins: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

It's the Mane-Salah combo again - this time Mane plays in the Egyptian inside the box and his low shot is well saved by Forster. Liverpool are waking up.

07:33 PM

16 mins: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

Liverpool steam the ball off the visitors in midfield and the ball comes out to Mane on the left, it's a mini counter but his ball is easily claimed by Forster when Salah was free in the box. Disappointing from the champions (I will be using that term a bit tonight as they won't be champions for too much longer, and I am kind, like that...).

07:31 PM

14 mins: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

Redmond looks lively, he does well, driving at TAA and wins a corner.

Ward-Prowse's first corner was disappointing what will he deliver now? A similarly poor effort, as it fails to beat the first man. They get another corner, however, and it's third time lucky as Ward-Prowse gets an inswinger right into the danger area and Allison comes out and punches.

07:27 PM

12 mins: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

Here's a stat - Liverpool have not won five games in a row in all competitions since November. This is the sort of match that last year was a definite three points, but already it's clear that this Liverpool side are a different animal. They'd take a hard-fought 1-0 right now.

07:25 PM

10 mins: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

A fairly quiet start from both sides at Anfield AND as I type that Mane chests down a ball from Trent Alexander-Arnold (TAA for the rest of the match) and then fires over on the half-volley against his former club.

07:21 PM

7 mins: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

Vestergaard is pressured by Salah and losses the ball but the Liverpool man's first touch is heavy and it goes over the deadball line.

07:20 PM

5 mins: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

The visitors are seeing more of the ball at the moment. But no clear chances have been created. Remember they beat Liverpool in January with Danny Ings' well-taken first-half goal. They were up against it second half and that's been their problem, according to Jamie Carragher on comms, they're a 'first-half team'.

07:17 PM

3 mins: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

An early Southampton corner in front of the Kop.

Ward-Prowse, the deadly deliverer of set pieces, hits it deep and Liverpool clear their lines.

07:16 PM

2 mins: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

Jota comes in off the left and tries to find Salah but Vestergaard makes a good challenge and snuffs out the danger.

07:15 PM

1 min: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton

We're under way at Anfield.

Liverpool are in their famous red kit while Southampton are wearing their white away kit with its fetching red sash-type thingy- debonair...

07:12 PM

The teams are out on the pitch

And we're ready to go.

Unlike Liverpool's last match against Manchester United, this game will go ahead, phew...

07:08 PM

The right time to face Southampton?

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07:07 PM

One reason for Liverpool's slump this season

Has been the form of Sadio Mane. The 29-year-old has only eight Premier League goals this season, averaging 0.27 per match. He scored 18 league goals a year ago. Added to that he's currently scoring with only 9.5 percent of his shots, which compares unfavourably with the most prolific marksmen who score between 20-30 percent of their goal attempts.

READ Chris Bascombe's report on Liverpool's Mane problem: How bad is his slump, what has caused it and what can they do about it

Sadio Mane 
Sadio Mane

07:03 PM

Ralph Hasenhuttl speaks

On the possibility of a shock tonight…

“Anfield without fans is not the same so we have a chance.”

07:02 PM

Jurgen Klopp speaks

On the centre back partnership of Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips…

“[Rhys] is doing well, really well in training. They have to work together and show how good they are.”

On the push for a spot in the top four…

“We have to win our games to keep up pressure on the other teams.”

06:47 PM

Our man Chris Bascombe is at Anfield

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06:46 PM

The Southampton team in black and white

SOUTHAMPTON XI TO FACE LIVERPOOL: Forster, Walker-Peters, Vestergaard, Stephens, Bednarek, Tella, Ward-Prowse, Armstrong, Walcott, Redmond, Adams, Subs: Djenepo, Obafemi, Salisu, Diallo, Ramsay, N'Lundulu, Ferry, Jankewitz, McCarthy

Ralph Hasenhuttl also makes a brace of changes. Ben Forster comes in for Alex McCarthy in goal, with Theo Walcott replacing Liverpool loanee Takumi Minamino, who is isn’t allowed to face his parent club.

Jannik Vestergaard’s red card against Leicester last week was overturned so he starts this evening. And one big blow is that Danny Ings still isn’t fit to play. There were vague hopes the scorer of the only goal when these sides last met would be able to take part.

While all the talk is of Liverpool needing to win to keep their hopes of a Champions League place alive, Southampton also need a result as they are not mathematically safe from the dreaded drop. It’s very unlikely West Brom or Fulham will overtake them, but it would be nice to confirm a spot in next season’s Premier League sooner rather than later.

06:37 PM

Back to the Liverpool match and team news

Here's the Liverpool side again.

Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, R Williams, Robertson, Thiago Alcántara, Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Salah, Jota, Mané, Subs: Firmino, Adrián, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jones, Tsimikas, Shaqiri, Woodburn, N Williams, Koumetio

So Klopp has made two changes to team that drew 1-1 at home to Newcastle. Roberto Firmino starting on the bench is the big news, Ozan Kabak also drops to the bench. In come Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams.

06:32 PM

A bit more on that City-Chelsea result

The west London side are clearly Pep's bogey team...

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06:29 PM

So that win for Chelsea means two things for Liverpool

To use a well-known phrase, there's good news and there's bad news...

(1) They're still champions.

(2) They're now nine points off fourth place. Chelsea have gone into third and Leicester are now the team to catch in fourth on 63 points. Liverpool are currently on 54 points BUT with two games in hand, tonight's match being one of them.

I said below that this is MUST-WIN MATCH (just with caps lock) for Liverpool BUT that result now means it's a MUST-WIN MATCH (caps lock and in bold) for the hosts.

06:25 PM

I give you the Liverpool XI

LIVERPOOL XI TO FACE SOUTHAMPTON: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, R Williams, Robertson, Thiago Alcántara, Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Salah, Jota, Mané, Subs: Firmino, Adrián, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jones, Tsimikas, Shaqiri, Woodburn, N Williams, Koumetio

06:19 PM

Here be Southampton

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06:12 PM

A must-win match for Liverpool

So Liverpool are not going to remain champions for much longer, and to make matters worse they go into this match with the finish line in sight struggling to make the top-four. Them not defending their title was always possible - only one side (Man City, who else?!) have defended their Premier League crown since 2009. But no one had Jurgen Klopp’s team struggling to get into the Champions League.

Come this time of the season there are always a host of MUST-WIN GAMES (yep, the caps up is necessary…) but this really is a MUST-WIN GAME. The thought of Liverpool’s title defence ending up outside in the top four really would be ignominious and worthy of study many decades in the future.

I say that because this side is effectively the same one that steamrollered their way to the title last year. The only big difference in personnel is the lack of the injured Virgil van Dijk - who, as an aside, has had a ‘good’ season in that by not playing he’s exponentially increased his value and importance to Klopp’s side.

Will we seem more the the recently lesser-spotted smiley Jurgen Klopp tonight?  - GETTY IMAGES 
Will we seem more the the recently lesser-spotted smiley Jurgen Klopp tonight? - GETTY IMAGES

Anyway, since their post-Christmas hangover Liverpool have found some sort of form, in that they’re unbeaten in five in the league. But even though they’ve stopped the flow of defeats they still haven’t found their mojo - the thing that not only made them almost impossible to beat but also thrilling to watch. Their past two results have seen them draw to Leeds and Newcastle and when you watch them at the moment the displays tend to be marked by ponderousness rather than the panache of old.

A home match against Southampton looks like the sort of challenge they should lap up. The visitors are without a win in over a month and during that time have contrived to lose 3-0 to West Brom.

Klopp and Co still have a sliver of hope they can still finish in the top four - but only if they win tonight.

Stay here for all the team news, pre-match analysis and action.

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