Liverpool take title race to final day with win at Southampton

Published May 19, 2022
SOUTHAMPTON: Liverpool’s James Milner (L) vies with Southampton’s Nathan Redmond during their Premier League match at the St Mary’s Stadium.—Reuters
SOUTHAMPTON: Liverpool’s James Milner (L) vies with Southampton’s Nathan Redmond during their Premier League match at the St Mary’s Stadium.—Reuters

SOUTHAMPTON: Jurgen Klopp rated Liverpool’s chances of winning the Premier League as “not likely but possible” after the under-strength quadruple chasers took the title race to the final day of the season with a 2-1 win against Southampton on Tuesday.

After Liverpool defeated Chelsea on penalties in a gruelling FA Cup final just three days earlier, Klopp took a gamble with nine changes at St Mary’s.

Despite effectively fielding a reserve team and trailing to Nathan Redmond’s early strike, Liverpool hit back through goals from Takumi Minamino and Joel Matip.

The result leaves Liverpool a point behind leaders Manchester City ahead of Sunday’s final round of games when City are at home to Aston Villa and Liverpool host Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield.

City have 90 points with Liverpool on 89, meaning that victory for Pep Guardiola’s side against Villa, managed by former Reds captain Steven Gerrard, would secure their fourth league title in five seasons.

Klopp insisted at the weekend that he does not expect City to drop points against Villa. But Liverpool would be crowned champions for the second time in three seasons if they beat Wolves at Anfield and City fail to win.

“Of course it is unlikely because City play at home against Aston Villa, who play only on Thursday. It is possible, not likely but possible. That is enough,” Klopp said.

“It is our last home game of the season, the atmosphere will be outstanding, and we will try to use it. Of course it could happen. Football is a tricky game sometimes. The only chance we had tonight was to win. We did our job. We never give up.”

Klopp’s side will be expected to do their part of the equation against Wolves, especially now their refreshed key players can return to the team.

Sadio Mane, Luis Diaz, Andrew Robertson, Thiago Alcantara and Trent Alexander-Arnold were among those left out against Southampton, while Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk were sidelined with injuries suffered at Wembley.

“I never had a group like this. They push each other constantly. In the end, it is absolutely outstanding and tonight is really special,” Klopp said.

“We would have had much more problems today if we’d played the guys who played 120 minutes on Saturday. If it hadn’t worked out, it would have been 100 per cent my responsibility. Now it worked out and the boys should be really proud of that.”

James Milner, the 36-year-old utility player who was given a rare start, praised the back-up players for the way they took on the game.

“The guys are incredible. The guys who may not have played as much but you see it in training every day the level they put in and you can see it when they need to step up,” he said.

“It is a special group of players and a special football club. We fight to the end and keep going. All we can do is take it as far as we can,” he added.

City boss Guardiola said he planned to watch the game on television and if he tuned in, it would have made for frustrating viewing as Southampton squandered the lead.

But it was Riyad Mahrez’s missed penalty in the final minutes of City’s 2-2 draw at West Ham United on Sunday which had given Liverpool renewed hope of catching the leaders.

And the Reds, hoping to become the first English club to win all four major trophies in one season, will settle their bid for historyin the last two games of their incredible, marathon campaign.

First, Liverpool will try to avoid a repeat of 2019, when they beat Wolves on the last day but were still pipped to the title by City.

Then they head to Paris to face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on May 28.

Liverpool were hit on the break when Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side took the lead after 13 minutes.

Redmond sprinted away down the left flank, cutting inside to the edge of the area and unleashed a fierce strike that took a deflection off Milner as it flashed into the far corner.

With their title hopes in jeopardy, Liverpool showed the desire and character that inspired Klopp to label them “mentality monsters”.

Roberto Firmino, who led the line in the absence of Mane, had a header ruled out for offside as the visitors sought a quick way back into the game.

Liverpool drew level in the 27th minute with Minamino, who spent a loan spell with Southampton last season, firing a fierce shot in at the near post.

Defender Joe Gomez, whose Liverpool career has been hampered by injuries, had to be substituted at the interval after suffering what appeared to be an ankle injury just before the break.

The goal had taken the wind out of Southampton’s sails and it was no surprise when Liverpool secured the three points after Kostas Tsimikas’s corner was headed in by Matip in the 67th minute.

It was a weak effort by Southampton and Liverpool had little trouble seeing out the rest of the game and setting up what could be a tense final day.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2022

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