There is a definite argument to say that this was the Reds’ most important win of the season so far, and it now makes Champions League qualification a distinct possibility.
Defeat for Brendan Rodgers’ side against a fellow top-four rival would have been fairly disastrous, but the professional manner in which they gained all three points was hugely impressive.
Liverpool were never at their fluent best, and were fortunate to have the referee on their side a few times, but defensively they were terrific and the brilliant attacking duo of Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling produced at the other end of the pitch.
It’s now five away clean sheets in a row in the league—the first time the Reds have achieved that since 1985—and Rodgers’ men now have the kind of momentum that saw them produce an unlikely title charge last season.
This was an afternoon for character, spirit, guts and resilience and Liverpool displayed all those qualities in abundance.
In the second half they gave a lesson in how to control a contest as they kept Southampton at arm’s length. This side may lack the swashbuckling attacking brilliance of Rodgers’ class of 2013/14 but he has now created a slick, cohesive unit. The balance of the team is so much better and that’s reflected in their new-found defensive steel.
Martin Skrtel was their outstanding performer against Southampton as he repeatedly repelled their advances. Saints top scorer Graziano Pelle barely had a kick. Behind him, Simon Mignolet once again played a starring role. No-one epitomises the Reds’ transformation this season more than the Belgian keeper.
The Daily Telegraph‘s Henry Winter highlighted just what a huge improvement it has been since that miserable defeat at Old Trafford, and the ground they have made up on their rivals:
Liverpool were never at their fluid best but there is a resilience to them now, and it is 469 minutes since they last conceded an away goal in the league.
The last goal this current Liverpool side let in on the road in the league was on Dec 14 at Old Trafford when Robin van Persie scored with 19 minutes remaining of a 3-0 win. Defeat dropped Liverpool to 10th position, leaving them 10 points behind third-placed Manchester United, and raising questions about Rodgers.
Barney Ronay of the Guardian gushed over the brilliance of Coutinho’s stunning goal, and also heaped praise on the hugely promising Jordan Ibe:
Coutinho took two paces forward and produced a moment of pure inspiration, a dipping right-foot shot that twanged down over the line off the bar. Here a single moment of sublime, explosive skill was pretty much the sole moment of illumination in a messy, cantankerous first half.
For Liverpool, Jordon Ibe has made the biggest impression in recent weeks, a 19-year-old who already looks the model of a high-class young attacking footballer. Ibe’s power and athleticism look pretty state of the art, reflecting a vogue at the highest level for muscular, imposing, skilful wide players.
Nobody gets out the bunting for sixth place, but there is more to Liverpool’s inch-by-inch progress up the table than first sight suggests.
This win edged them past Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, but the gap now separating Liverpool from clubs with loftier ambitions is increasingly small. They are a point behind Southampton, whose bubble may be about to pop, two points off Manchester United in fourth, three points away from Arsenal in third. Inferior goal difference means Liverpool will need to go that extra yard but, on this form, it is well within their power.
They scored with their first two shots on target in this game, the second in the 73rd minute, but that should not detract from the display. This was a gutsy, impressive win on a day that made it impossible to play the brand of football that is the trademark of manager Brendan Rodgers.
Next up for Liverpool is Thursday’s Europa League second-leg clash with Besiktas at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium (6:00pm kick off GMT); the venue of the Reds’ unforgettable Champions League triumph over AC Milan in 2005.