Liverpool kept themselves in the hunt for a top-four Premier League finish as they earned a 2-0 win over Southampton at Anfield.
Sadio Mane’s 31st-minute header and a late Thiago Alcantara strike – his first for the club – proved the difference as the hosts ensured their slim hopes of clinching Champions League qualification remain alive.
The Saints, meanwhile, failed to make themselves mathematically safe from relegation as they suffered defeat, though with 10 points separating them from 18th-placed Fulham, it is highly unlikely they will be dragged into the mix.
Liverpool’s last two outings – 1-1 draws against Leeds United and Newcastle United – were largely defined by a failure to take their opportunities, rather than any issues creating them.
And Jurgen Klopp could have been forgiven for worrying that a familiar pattern was once again emerging as his team missed chance after chance in the opening 25 minutes.
Mohamed Salah was guilty of twice finding Fraser Forster’s gloves when he might have done better, while Diogo Jota and Mane each shot over from good positions.
And when Alisson did brilliantly to close the angle on a Che Adams one-on-one created by Nathan Tella just after Georginio Wijnaldum hit the bar, it looked like the Reds were in for another forgettable outing.
However, from the resulting attack, Liverpool went ahead, Salah sending in an inswinging cross that Mane simply could not fail to head home from close range.
The fragility of that lead was underlined before the break when Tella headed straight at Alisson with the goal at his mercy, and the Brazilian needed to show sharp reactions again to deny substitute Michael Obafemi just past the hour mark as the Saints pushed.
Clearly enjoying his starring role, the goalkeeper even gave himself another huge stop to make as he passed the ball to the feet of Adams before getting down to block the subsequent shot.
A nervous finish could have been avoided had Mane stayed onside before lashing home a recycled ball beyond Forster late in the second half, but the hosts wrapped things up in the 90th minute through Thiago’s low finish from the edge of the box.
What does it mean? Reds still in top-four running
Chelsea may well be out of reach for Liverpool as they look to sneak into the Champions League places late in the season, but Klopp’s squad have every reason to believe they can catch Leicester City.
The fading Foxes are now just six points ahead of the Reds having played a game more and must take on Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham in their final three games.
It always felt like Liverpool’s goalkeeper could be in for a busy game with such an inexperienced centre-back pairing ahead of him, Nathaniel Phillips partnering Rhys Williams in defence.
But the Brazilian was more than up to the task, with almost all of his six saves across the 90 minutes coming in situations where the opposing player looked the clear favourite to win the duel.
A Liverpool team that has prided itself on midfield solidity in recent years lacked that for large periods of this game, and the typically reliable Wijnaldum cannot escape his share of the blame for that.
The Dutchman made just 41 passes, zero tackles and zero interceptions in an anonymous showing that perhaps shows why Klopp might be willing to let him go this summer.
– Liverpool kept their first home clean sheet in nine Premier League games, since drawing 0-0 with Manchester United in January.
– Southampton have earned just 11 points from their 18 Premier League games in 2021, fewer than any other top-flight side this calendar year (W3 D2 L13).
– Mane remains the last player to score at Anfield for Southampton in the Premier League (October 2015).
– Salah’s assist for Mane’s opener was the 15th time the duo have combined for a Premier League goal for Liverpool, but the first occasion this season.
– Thiago became the 140th player to score a Premier League goal for Liverpool, and the first to score a maiden goal from outside the box since Divock Origi in December 2015.
Southampton are back in action as early as Tuesday when they host Crystal Palace, while Liverpool head to Old Trafford on Thursday in order to fulfil their postponed meeting with bitter rivals Manchester United.
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