It was a vital three points in Liverpool’s quest to save their status as a Champions League side, with several key performances.
Liverpool 2-0 Southampton
Premier League, Anfield
May 8, 2021
Goals: Mane 31′, Thiago 90′
Is this still a Champions League side?
Following Leicester‘s loss to Newcastle on Friday, Liverpool are now just six points behind Brendan Rodgers’ side and with a game in hand.
With the chances they created in the first half, Klopp’s side looked a little more like their old selves, but they’re still not at the level of previous seasons.
They might be getting closer to resembling a Champions League side, even if not a Premier League-winning one, with three quality attacking players supported by what on paper is a very good midfield and a couple of excellent full-backs.
They are a few clinical finishes and good decisions in the final third away from looking like one of the Premier League‘s best teams again, and therefore deserving of a place in the top four.
But their performances throughout the season mean they are being made to work for that coveted spot in the table, and rightly so.
Leicester have a tough run-in against Man United, Chelsea, and Tottenham, while West Ham‘s and Liverpool’s are slightly easier, plus they have the game in hand.
After the Man United game the Reds face West Brom, Burnley, and Crystal Palace, they will be looking to secure the maximum 12 points available, and they will likely need them all.
Defensive dilemmas (again)
With Ozan Kabak (and Ben Davies) adding their names to the injury list, Jurgen Klopp decided to keep Fabinho in midfield and use the pairing of Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams at the back.
It was the second time the inexperienced duo have started together, the other occasion being the 1-0 defeat home to Fulham.
Liverpool persisted with their high line despite Phillips and Williams not being the quickest.
They were almost caught out when Nathan Tella broke through and went down under pressure from Williams who was the last man, but referee Kevin Friend decided there was no foul play.
Williams was caught out when Tella broke again, resulting in a great chance for Che Adams which was saved by Alisson.
The 20-year-old did some good sweeping up in the second half though, with a neat back-header to Alisson as well as getting to loose balls ahead of the opposition a number of times.
Phillips had a couple of chances to score from set-pieces at the other end, but is so used to making defensive headers he sent them both off target. He won seven aerial duels in total.
This pair shouldn’t be one used by Liverpool at all next season, but they did what they needed to do here, and managed to keep a clean sheet.
Entertainer Thiago awaits his audience
Opinion seems split on Thiago‘s time at Liverpool so far, and it was probably split similarly on this game alone until his well-taken goal.
Though he’s not enjoyed the season many hoped he would after arriving from Bayern Munich, this has been mostly down to the woes of the team in general than the Spaniard individually.
He seems to get blamed for many things which aren’t his fault, and good play is often ignored. That won’t be the case once supporters can get back in the stands.
The 30-year-old should become a favourite at Anfield if he’s able to stay fit and in the team. He may even be appreciated beyond Liverpool in grounds around the country, such is his natural ability to entertain and his flamboyant skills, even in between the main narratives of a game.
Against Southampton there was a pass with the shoulder, a pirouette in midfield, a blast on the half volley from distance, and a late goal, all of which would have had fans showing their appreciation.
He finished the game with a pass success of 93 per cent, while only Andy Robertson had more touches.
He will be much more appreciated once people get to see him live and can make their own minds up.
With such an inexperienced defensive partnership in front of him, it can’t be underestimated how important Alisson‘s presence was between the posts.
Such disruption in the side often affects the goalkeeper, but Alisson is the type of player whose presence can influence matters in a positive direction, making those in front of him more at ease, safe in the knowledge the goalkeeper will be there for them if needed.
And he was needed.
Alisson made 6 saves tonight – the most he's ever made in a Premier League game.
The last Liverpool goalkeeper to make as many in a league match while also keeping a clean sheet was Pepe Reina v Wigan in March 2013 (also 6). #LFC #LIVSOU
— Michael Reid (@michael_reid11) May 8, 2021
He made a great save to bail out Williams in the first half, and also had to save well after a mistake of his own in the second period.
There were other stops and interventions to keep Liverpool in the game and secure the three points, and the opening goal coming right after one of them to further highlight his contribution.
He was given Man of the Match by Sky, and it was thoroughly deserved.
Last game at Anfield without fans
Liverpool have lost six league games at home this season and are widely considered one of the teams who have missed fans in the stands the most.
Though this is no excuse for their performances this season, it will be a relief to see this side firing in front of supporters again when Crystal Palace visit Anfield on the final game of the season in a fortnight.
The front row seats on three sides of the stadium are currently given to the logos of the club’s main sponsors, but the Kop remains littered with flags and banners throughout and there is a touching tribute to Gerard Houllier below the scoreboard in the Kenny Dalglish Stand.
The only applause comes from the respective benches, and the only shouts come from the touchline and the players on the pitch.
The tannoy is far too loud for an empty stadium with no spectators to absorb the music and pre-match blurb, and the radio commentators are the only voices debating the action as fans usually would.
Not for much longer, and hopefully there can be a full house at Anfield again next season.