The 27th game of the 2017/18 Premier League season for Liverpool was played on Sunday, February 11th 2018, at St. Mary’s Stadium in Southampton.
Regardless of the outcome, this round was set to close the gap between places 2 and 5, as Spurs pulled a 1-0 win over their neighbours Arsenal and pushed Liverpool temporarily down to 4th place, and Manchester United bowed to Rafa Benitez again and his Newcastle team by the same result.
Joe Gomez, Ragnar Klavan and Nathaniel Clyne were still absent, while Jurgen Klopp explained the absence of Jordan Henderson as a decision based on the need to manage the captain’s fitness, coupled with the suspension of Emre Can for the Champions League clash against Porto on Wednesday.
This is the team chosen to wear the Liverpool crest:
📋 Team news time 🔴
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 11, 2018
For the Saints, Manolo Gabiadinni and Charlie Austin remain out, while they had no newly injured players.
Mauricio Pellegrino picked these players to try and stop the Reds, and give them a boost as they battle relegation:
The teams are in!
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) February 11, 2018
The First Half
Liverpool went into the game on the front foot, pushing the scared looking Southampton team back. And it didn’t take them long to prove there was a reason for the home side to be scared.
Six minutes in, an excellent pass by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain found Mo Salah who got behind his marker. Hoedt had no choice but to cut across and try to stop Salah, abandoning his vigilance on Roberto Firmino in the middle. Salah simply squared the ball and Firmino put it past the ‘keeper.
Pellegrino’s men responded surprisingly well to going down. They got a grip of themselves and took matters into their own hands. Liverpool were suddenly the team being pushed back, but they defended well for the most part.
In the 15th minute, a long attack ended with Jack Stephens taking a strong low shot from 25 yards – wide.
Liverpool defended well in this period, but when they tried to move forward after Stephens’ shot, the Saints took the ball and tried to hit on the counter. Thankfully, it was stopped by referee Martin Atkinson when Dušan Tadić got caught offside.
Two minutes later, the home team had their best chance of the game, by a long shot. A long diagonal pass found Pierre-Emile Hoejbjerg coming into the box from the right. Andy Robertson made a rare but bad mistake by misjudging the flight of the ball and taking himself out of play. Hoejbjerg controlled it well and stopped, facing no-one but Loris Karius. He had all the time and space he needed to make it count.
He tried a passing-shot, like in tennis, but Karius had made himself big and produced an excellent save.
Nevertheless, it was a stint of really good play from Southampton. They pressed well and kept the ball under their control, which enabled them to recycle attacks constantly. The Reds on the other hand couldn’t snap out of it. Their passing lacked quality, the same as their movements off the ball. They were trying to slow the game down, but not succeeding.
Not until the 25th minute did Liverpool do something of note again. Then, Firmino combined with Salah and Oxlade-Chamberlain and received the ball back, facing away from the goal, inside the box. As he tried to pull away from Stephens, he suddenly went down. In all honesty, it looked like a dive at first, but another angle in slow motion clearly showed Stephens grabbing him from behind and pulling him down. Another wrong call regarding a penalty went against Liverpool.
Two minutes later, another foul on Firmino, this time by Hoedt near the halfway line, clear as day, wasn’t given.
Minute 29 was passing when a good cross from the right by James Ward-Prowse found the head of Guido Carillo high in the air, but the Saints’ No.9 couldn’t generate enough power on the header to trouble the well-positioned Karius. In the next move, Tadić whipped in one from the left aiming at the far post, and this time it was Ward-Prowse who tried a header. Much better than Carillo’s, from a tight angle right under the bar, but Karius shone once again by tipping it over.
Two minutes later, the Reds showed why they can never be taken lightly, even on the back foot. Georginio Winaldum sent a great pass to put Sadio Mane through. However, Mane mis-controlled it and was only able to toe-poke it fairly wide from around 15 yards.
Then Firmino combined nicely with Robertson on the left, and the left-back squared it across the six-yard box for someone to run onto it, but both Mane and Salah were waiting a little further back and neither made a move.
In the 37th minute, Southampton had a corner that evoked some unpleasant memories. The cross came in, a shambolic scramble occurred in which the Reds (wearing orange in this game) lost all control. Fortunately for them, a headed pass caught several home players offside.
A minute later, Joel Matip was booked for a foul on Tadić.
Five minutes before the break, Tadić and Ryan Bertrand were combining on the left and Bertrand whipped in a cross. It found the head of Ward-Prowse but his header was very tame and easy for Karius to collect.
But in the 42nd minute, we witnessed magic again.
Matip strode into Southampton’s half with the ball and sent it forward, towards Salah who was positioned in the middle, just outside the box. Salah extended the pass to the left for Firmino and ran towards the goal. An incredibly accurate back-heel pass and the ball was returned to him around the penalty spot, in such a way that he never even had to break step. From there it was easy to shoot first-time past Alex McCarthy. Mo’s 22nd Premier League goal of the season that takes him ahead of Sergio Aguero again, and keeps him just one behind the diving champion Harry Kane. The assist though – a true work of art from Bobby.
From that moment on, Liverpool were in complete control of the game.
The one minute of first-half injury time saw Virgil van Dijk (booed throughout the game) stop a Southampton attack and give the ball to Oxlade-Chamberlain. Ox took it forward and engaged Firmino on the left, but Firmino was stopped by some good defending from Stephens.
The Second Half
In less than a minute, Emre Can was booked for a foul on Oriol Romeu.
Five minutes later, some fantastic football from Liverpool had Southampton on the ropes again. Robertson dribbled past his marker near the halfway line and combined with Mane to keep the ball under pressure from two more opponents. Then Mane released Firmino on the left wing, ran into the box, and caught Firmino’s cross with a flying volley, but he was blocked. The ball rebounded kindly for Salah, but his shot from around 12 yards went over the bar.
At this point, the home team were trying to give Liverpool a tough battle in midfield, but the quality of the Reds was simply too much for them to deal with.
With 57 minutes gone, Mario Lemina, who was having a good game individually, had to be taken off due to not feeling well. Going for more flair, Pellegrino introduced Sofiane Boufal. Hoejbjerg went deeper alongside Romeu and Boufal filled in as No.10, though he barely touched the ball at all.
The Saints had a good opportunity just a minute later. Trent Alexander-Arnold fouled Tadić in the left-wing position, and Ward-Prowse delivered an awkward cross to the near post. As Karius came out, Hoedt cut in front of him but couldn’t hit the target from a tight angle.
With an hour gone, Klopp decided to freshen up his midfield. James Milner came on for Oxlade-Chamberlain, and received the captain’s armband from Emre Can who had been wearing it up to that point.
As Liverpool slowly established complete control over the game, Hoedt displayed some fine defending to stop Salah just a minute after Milner came on. The vice-captain was fouled badly by Romeu after that, for which the Southampton midfielder received a yellow card.
Within the next few minutes, the Reds conducted several dangerous attacks. First Salah played a one-two with Robertson and involved Wijnaldum. The Dutchman took a shot that went horribly wide. Then Hoedt did well again, this time stopping Firmino. A long attack that followed ended with Can also shooting wild from range. And then, it was very promising when Mane intercepted a pass from Hoejbjerg near the middle, burst forward and went past the Dane’s feeble attempt at recovering possession. He then gave it to Firmino who’s shot was blocked and followed by Salah hitting the outside of the net from a tight angle from around 12 yards.
In the 71st minute, it was time for Pellegrino to throw on another striker. Shane Long took to the pitch instead of Ward-Prowse.
Three minutes later, as the home team went forward to try and get anything from the game, Mane lead a counterattack. Can ran behind him and opened up on the left, Salah did the same on the right, and the two supporting players managed to stretch the Southampton defence a bit and open up a gap through the middle. Mane tried to exploit it and went for goal, but his shot was blocked, as was Robertson’s on the follow-up.
With 15 minutes left on the clock, Firmino tried a low diagonal pass from deep right for Wijnaldum on the edge of the box. Wijnaldum could have taken it in his stride and went for goal, but he chose to do a dummy and leave it for Mane whose step wasn’t right for such a pass. The Senegalese was forced to take a turn and then fire, and it went understandably wide.
Two minutes later, Robertson found Firmino through the middle. Firmino tried to pass to Mane, but his pass was intercepted. It bounced back to Firmino however, and his shot was blocked.
In the 79th minute, Firmino was replaced by Adam Lallana.
At that point, Liverpool lost a bit of thrust, and the Saints tried to attack again. Tadić sent in an awkward cross that was dealt with by the joint efforts of Karius and Lallana.
With two minutes to go, Lallana had a good chance to make it three and rub salt into the wounds of his old club. He received the ball from Alexander-Arnold, played a one-two with Salah and took a low shot to the far corner, missing it by a few inches.
In order to make sure nothing exciting happened in the last few minutes, Klopp took off Salah and replaced him with another ex Southampton man – Dejan Lovren.
And that was it. Nothing exciting did happen.
It wasn’t the best of performances from Klopp’s men overall, but it was good enough. The job is done, the 3rd place has been reclaimed. More importantly, the gap to Manchester United in second has been reduced to just two points.
Next up – West Ham at Anfield, on February 24th.
Before that though, it’s Porto at the Estadio do Dragao, in the first leg of this season’s Champions League round of 16.
We walk on.