Sunday 18 August 2019

Reds roar back to the summit

Southampton 1 Liverpool 3

Substitute Jordan Henderson celebrates after scoring Liverpool’s third goal to seal victory at St Mary’s. Photo: AP
Substitute Jordan Henderson celebrates after scoring Liverpool’s third goal to seal victory at St Mary’s. Photo: AP

Jack Pitt-Brooke

How much more drama can this title race take? How much more tension can Liverpool put themselves through, and still keep mastering it? How much more can Manchester City watch on before they break under the endless pressure of it?

This is a series in which every episode is a thriller, none more so than Liverpool's 3-1 win at Southampton. No game could ever be as draining as their win over Spurs last Sunday but this was close. Jurgen Klopp, however, was invigorated rather than relieved.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Photo: Reuters

"It was brilliant, I told the boys we have a good mentality among us," said Klopp. "The goals we scored were simply world-class. Super goal from Mo, super run. Fantastic finish. Then Bobby (Firmino) chasing the whole world, pretty much, winning the ball and supplying the pass: 3-1.

"Everyone will come here in the future and feel how difficult it is, so that makes it even more satisfying and brilliant that we could win. It was great for us."

Again Liverpool started poorly, as if they were buckling under their own nerves. They went behind early on and, with 10 minutes left, it was still 1-1. Just like against Spurs. Just like against Fulham.

A draw would have allowed City to build a three-point cushion, giving them one free swing. But in fact it was yet another comic-book late win sparked by Mo Salah running 50 yards on the break, with 10 minutes left to score his 50th Premier League goal for Liverpool.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (centre) scores his side's second goal. Photo: PA
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (centre) scores his side's second goal. Photo: PA

It was one of the greatest moments yet in this unforgettable season, and one that showed that however Liverpool are playing, it does not matter much anymore. All the matters is getting over the line.

Klopp knew it was only a matter of time before he reached the half-century.

"Oh yes. But it was never in doubt that he was a great player in my side," said Klopp.

"Goal number 50 for Liverpool, an incredible number. He's pretty consistent, very consistent. Physical things are always there, but how he stays always calm. It's a nice moment. A first goal after a while.

Shane Long celebrates with teammates after scoring against Liverpool last weekend. Photo: AP
Shane Long celebrates with teammates after scoring against Liverpool last weekend. Photo: AP

"We come here and we know Southampton are a really different side since Ralph (Hasenhüttl) came in. Everyone was expecting three points, but we knew how difficult it would be."

They know, however, that they have to do this five more times and then City will have to be immaculate on their far longer, harder run-in if they are to defend their title.

The performance for the first 80 minutes of this game is almost irrelevant given how it ended. But, it must be said that in the first half Liverpool looked so frozen by the pressure that they were incapable of playing even the simplest football.

Saints' first real attack showed how vulnerable Liverpool were. Saints' second attack made them pay for it.

Southampton's Ryan Bertrand challenges Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold. Photo: Reuters
Southampton's Ryan Bertrand challenges Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold. Photo: Reuters

When Ryan Bertrand had the ball on the left no one even tried to stop his cross. When Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg charged forward into the box no one spotted him. And when he flicked the ball on it was far too easy for Shane Long to take it down and pick his spot.

Liverpool staggered to find their feet, but Long let them off the hook when he should have added a second.

And on 36 minutes, they were resurrected when Trent Alexander-Arnold delivered from the right and there was Naby Keita, six inches shorter than Jan Bednarek but jumping above him at the far post, getting just enough on his header to squeeze the ball past Angus Gunn.

Keita rewarded his manager's faith after his surprise inclusion but it was the addition of Henderson and James Milner after an hour which enabled Liverpool to end the game with more dominance, Henderson's strike to confirm the points sparking wild celebrations. The England midfielder had requested a more advanced role.

"We could bring two very motivated boys on," said Klopp. "They helped a lot, pushed the whole team. They do it in the dressing-room and on the pitch. Then we scored these two world-class goals, winning the balls back and counter-attacking."

On Henderson playing further forward, Klopp added: "We spoke about that because he played for England and looked really good. He has played incredible games as a number six for us. All midfielders have to offer me things, and I have to make my mind up. What he did today was fantastic. First goal for a while, so that's a nice sign."

Liverpool now have a two point-lead having played a game more than Manchester City. Chelsea head to Anfield next weekend, while City head to Crystal Palace prior to Premier League meetings with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.

"People want us to play like Manchester City. We are unable to do that, we play our own football," said Klopp. "We have 82 points now, that is massive in this crazy league and everyone is waiting for us. I am really proud. It is incredible."

That's the word that could certainly be attached to Salah's goal as he received a wonderful header from Henderson and broke with stunning speed before whipping the ball into the corner. From there the result was obvious but Liverpool did spare themselves a nervy finish by scoring a third.

Southampton were exhausted and when Firmino burst down the right he could set up Henderson for their third.

For the first time all night the away end could take a deep breath. And, like their skipper, then unleash a roar that will be heard in Manchester.

©Independent News Service

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