December 5, 2022

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Reds Rising: Thiago’s first ever goal for Liverpool give Jurgen Klopp’s men victory over Southampton

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Somehow they remain in the race. Liverpool are not playing like a Champions League team but, with two weeks to go, the possibility of pilfering a top four spot is still there.

Having seen Leicester and Tottenham lose, Liverpool had no other option but to beat Southampton if they wanted to remain in the race and that is what they did, as Sadio Mane’s first half strike against his old club then a super injury time finish from Thiago Alcantara proved enough.

How long they remain in the contest is open to debate but they are still fighting and it would be foolish to discount Jurgen Klopp and company just yet – this is a manager who has a habit of taking seasons to the very last game and that could again be the case.

Liverpool forward Sadio Mane (left) opened the scoring from a Mohamed Salah cross, beating Kyle Walker-Peters (2) in the air

Liverpool forward Sadio Mane (left) opened the scoring from a Mohamed Salah cross, beating Kyle Walker-Peters (2) in the air

Liverpool forward Sadio Mane (left) opened the scoring from a Mohamed Salah cross, beating Kyle Walker-Peters (2) in the air

The Senegalese nodded in from close range, beating Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who failed to come for the ball

The Senegalese nodded in from close range, beating Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who failed to come for the ball

The Senegalese nodded in from close range, beating Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who failed to come for the ball

The opening goal came less than a minute after Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson (right) made a good save from Che Adams (left)

The opening goal came less than a minute after Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson (right) made a good save from Che Adams (left)

The opening goal came less than a minute after Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson (right) made a good save from Che Adams (left)

Match Facts: Liverpool versus Southampton 

LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Alisson 7.5; Alexander-Arnold 7, Phillips 7, R Williams 6, Robertson 7; Thiago 6.5, Fabinho 6.5, Wijnaldum 6; Salah 7.5 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 87mins), Jota 6.5 (Firmino 79mins 6), Mane 7 (Jones 90+2).

Subs not used: Adrian (GK), Tsimikas, Shaqiri, N Williams, Woodburn, Koumetio.

Goals: Mane (31). 

Manager: Jurgen Klopp 6.

SOUTHAMPTON (4-2-3-1): Forster 8; Walker-Peters 6, Bednarek 7, Vestergaard 6, Stephens 7; Ward-Prowse 6, Armstrong 6; Walcott 4 (Diallo 66mins 6), Tella 5 (Obafemi 66mins 6), Redmond 6; Adams 4 (Djnepo 79mins).

Subs not used: McCarthy, Salisu, Ramsay, N’Lundulu, Ferry, Jankewitz. 

Booked: Redmond.

Manager: Ralph Hasenhuttl 6.

Referee: Kevin Friend 6. 

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When these sides first met on the first Monday of the year at St Mary’s, nobody could have imagined that Liverpool would end up being also-rans in the title race; they were top on the morning of January 4 with 33 points from 16 games.

That impoverished and wasteful performance on the South coast, however, was a precursor for what was to come and the disjointed, erratic nature of the last four months has meant there are many within Anfield who feel the end of the campaign cannot come quickly enough.

If Liverpool have been a shadow of themselves in 2021, the same is true of Southampton. It should not be forgotten they were being spoken of as being dark horses for Europe but in the 124 days since beating the champions 1-0 they had collected just eight more points.

Teams arriving at Anfield in such a state of flux used to be sent packing with the minimum of fuss but Liverpool’s loss of form has led to a loss of trust in them and it was no foregone conclusion that they would get the win to apply some pressure to the teams above them.

In fairness to Klopp’s team, though, they started briskly and professionally. Southampton were organised and stubborn, particularly goalkeeper Fraser Forster, but it soon became apparent that they would have their work cut out.

Diogo Jota should have given Liverpool a 23rd minute lead but, after picking up a back heel from Mane and dropping his shoulder to dash into Southampton’s area, he could only fire a shot straight at Forster. The wince and exasperated head tilt told you the Portuguese was frustrated with himself.

You could see Liverpool beginning to hit full stride, cranking up their momentum, and they came closer still in the 25th minute when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s fizzing corner was met flush by Gini Wijnaldum but the midfielder’s header thudded against the crossbar.

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Southampton had offered little to this point but, in a move that came against the run of play on the half-hour, they had an opportunity to inflict the kind of punishment on Liverpool that so many other teams have managed to at this stadium in recent months.

Rhys Williams, deputising for the injured Ozan Kabak, got caught out and allowed Nathan Tella to dash away down Liverpool’s left; the winger held his nerve and squared for Che Adams but, crucially, he lacked conviction and was psyched out by Alisson Becker, who smothered the striker’s chip.

Hasenhuttl spun on his heels in frustration – it really was an outstanding chance – and his exasperation was exacerbated within 60 seconds as Liverpool inflicted maximum punishment, with Mane scoring his first goal at Anfield since December 27.

Reds' Egyptian winger Salah (right) had several presentable opportunities in the first half but was often denied by Forster

Reds' Egyptian winger Salah (right) had several presentable opportunities in the first half but was often denied by Forster

Reds’ Egyptian winger Salah (right) had several presentable opportunities in the first half but was often denied by Forster

Alisson also had a strong game between the sticks and came off his line quickly to deny Saints striker Michael Obafemi (14)

Alisson also had a strong game between the sticks and came off his line quickly to deny Saints striker Michael Obafemi (14)

Alisson also had a strong game between the sticks and came off his line quickly to deny Saints striker Michael Obafemi (14)

The Reds capitalised on the visitors' profligacy late on, with Spanish midfielder Thiago curling in his first goal for the club

The Reds capitalised on the visitors' profligacy late on, with Spanish midfielder Thiago curling in his first goal for the club

The Reds capitalised on the visitors’ profligacy late on, with Spanish midfielder Thiago curling in his first goal for the club

Thiago used Southampton defender Jannik Vestergaard as a guide to bend the ball into the bottom corner and seal a 2-0 win

Thiago used Southampton defender Jannik Vestergaard as a guide to bend the ball into the bottom corner and seal a 2-0 win

Thiago used Southampton defender Jannik Vestergaard as a guide to bend the ball into the bottom corner and seal a 2-0 win

The result and subsequent three points is a key step towards Champions League qualification for Jurgen Klopp's outfit

The result and subsequent three points is a key step towards Champions League qualification for Jurgen Klopp's outfit

The result and subsequent three points is a key step towards Champions League qualification for Jurgen Klopp’s outfit

German Klopp saw his side secure victory and keep a clean sheet despite an inexperienced backline including Rhys Williams

German Klopp saw his side secure victory and keep a clean sheet despite an inexperienced backline including Rhys Williams

German Klopp saw his side secure victory and keep a clean sheet despite an inexperienced backline including Rhys Williams

Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, however, will know the game was a missed opportunity after his side missed several chances

Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, however, will know the game was a missed opportunity after his side missed several chances

Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl, however, will know the game was a missed opportunity after his side missed several chances

It was created by Mohamed Salah, whose dipping cross to the back post found Mane outmuscling Kyle Walker-Peters; the Senegal international needed to be brave and he was, throwing himself at the ball to head in from six yards.

The celebrations were muted – it was relief more than anything else – but the goal was not a catalyst for Liverpool to go through the gears; Southampton, as it happened, had the best chance before the break but, again, Adams fluffed his lines following a cross from Nathan Redmond.

Southampton were blown away in a second half storm when they came to Anfield last season – it was at a time, before the pandemic, when Klopp’s side were head and shoulders above anyone else – and they came out for the restart exuding menace.

Jota, once again starting ahead of Roberto Firmino, scuttled into the area in the 48th minute but Forster stood tall at his near post and beat the Portuguese’s left foot drive away, triggering another grimace from Liverpool’s number 20.

Another promising moment arrived shortly after but after Alexander-Arnold fired in a terrific cross, defender Nat Phillips got his angles wrong and could not divert his header towards goal. You should not be surprised, then again, to read that Liverpool were wasteful.

The only time they have scored more than once at Anfield in nine Premier League matches came against Aston Villa – 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 2, 1 was the sequence going into this contest – and another chance to kill the game went begging in the 68th minute when Jack Stephens blocked a Salah shot.

Such profligacy meant the conclusion was never going to be anything other than tense and incident in the 76th minute illustrated the nerves when Alisson, who had hitherto been exemplary, proceeded to pass a ball straight to Adams. Once again, he failed to capitalise and shot straight at the Brazilian.

As was the case in the first period, the miss was crucial. Liverpool remained resolute and in the final minute Thiago swatted in his first goal for the club. Klopp hoisted his arms with a mixture of relief and delight. The fight continues. 

Relive the blow-by-blow live coverage from Sportsmail‘s Max Mathews below.  

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