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Reds fighting for top four ‘miracle’

Mane (left) looked back to something approaching his form of recent seasons with a sharp display against his former club

Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara says Jurgen Klopp’s men will keep “fighting for a small miracle” to make the Champions League places after scoring his first goal for the club in the win against Southampton.

It is a victory that puts pressure on fourth-placed Leicester City, who lost 4-2 to Newcastle United on Friday.

Klopp’s men took full advantage of Leicester’s defeat by moving within six points of the top four – and have a game in hand on the Foxes.

Sadio Mane opened the scoring against his former club, heading home Mohamed Salah’s cross moments after Alisson had made two saves in quick succession.

Alisson gifted Southampton a chance to equalise late in the game when he passed straight to Che Adams, but the Brazil goalkeeper made amends by saving the Scotland striker’s shot.

Spain midfielder Thiago then scored his first Reds goal in added time to hand Klopp his 100th win at Anfield in all competitions.

It will also have pleased the German manager that his side earned a clean sheet despite the inexperienced Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams forming their centre-back pairing.

“There are small chances. We are realistic with our situation,” Thiago told BBC Sport about his side’s top-four hopes.

“The most important thing is the three points. We dominated the game and created a lot. If you can help with a goal it’s more than welcome.”

Southampton are still not safe from relegation but their Premier League status could be secured when West Bromwich Albion and Fulham play their matches later this weekend.

A return to form at Anfield

After being imperious at home in the past three seasons, Liverpool’s title defence faltered mainly as a result of losing six top-flight games at Anfield for the first time in 67 years.

But despite being on a run of just one win from their last 10 home league games, they made a bright start against Southampton with Salah twice testing Fraser Forster early on and Diogo Jota firing straight at the former England goalkeeper.

Liverpool’s stand-in captain Georginio Wijnaldum also headed against the top of the crossbar from a corner, while a Saints break resulted in Alisson having to make a point-blank save from Adams with Nathan Redmond firing straight at him from the rebound.

Just 40 seconds later, Senegal winger Mane rose above Kyle Walker-Peters to head home Salah’s inswinging cross. Remarkably, it was the first time the forwards have combined for a goal in the Premier League this season.

Nathan Tella headed straight at Alisson just before the break, and after Adams spurned his opportunity late on, substitute Roberto Firmino fed Thiago to seal victory with a 20-yard strike into the bottom corner.

Good experience for defensive duo

Phillips and Williams became Liverpool’s 20th centre-back pairing of an injury-hit season when they started the home defeat by Fulham on 7 March.

Williams had not started since, but with on-loan Turkey defender Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies – yet to play since signing in January – ruled out with “minor fitness concerns”, the 20-year-old was reunited with Phillips, 24.

This time the academy products looked more assured than against the Cottagers. Williams gained possession more times than any other Liverpool player (eight), with Phillips making the most clearances (five).

They could not be faulted for Adams’ first chance as they were left exposed by a break that allowed Tella to race clear.

And while they were missing when Tella rose unchallenged for his header before half-time, it was Alisson who was very much the culprit when Adams should have equalised in the second half.

The visitors perhaps got in behind the Liverpool defence more often than boss Klopp would have liked but there is no doubt his inexperienced defensive pair will have learnt a lot from further top-flight exposure.

Phillips in particular has shown up well with Liverpool’s three key centre-backs injured and if he can help his side to more clean sheets in their last four games, they could salvage something from a miserable campaign.

Saints feeling Ings’ absence

Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl had tears in his eyes after Southampton beat Liverpool in the reverse fixture on 4 January, a win that lifted them up to sixth in the table.

Just two league wins since then have left Saints looking over their shoulder and this latest defeat illustrated the main area in which they are lacking.

They made enough chances to get something from the game, with substitute Ibrahima Diallo also stinging the palms of Alisson with a second-half volley.

But in the continued absence of top-scorer Danny Ings, they struggled to find a finishing touch.

While they hope the England striker returns before the end of the season, he is likely to have plenty of suitors in the summer,.

Even if Saints can hang on to their prize asset, Hasenhuttl may feel he needs reinforcements up front if they are to avoid a similarly poor run next term.

‘Top four not impossible’

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp speaking to BBC Sport: “They are well organised and have an intense style of play. They had their moments. We set up their biggest chance ourselves but we deserved the three points.

“We scored a really nice first goal but it’s familiar for us now to not finish the game early so we had to stay in the game and scoring a wonderful second goal obviously was a big relief.”

On being in the race for the top four: “We are kind of. It’s not impossible but it’s difficult. We will give it a try and see where we get to.”

Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl speaking to BBC Sport: “The difference was that they scored and we didn’t. I think we maybe had more chances – clear chances – than they did.

“How we wanted to play was OK. We created good chances, we tried to build up through the lines and we were brave, as you have to be against a big side.

“We were cool until the final third and there the coolness was gone. This is what you need to have against such a team.”

Salah and Mane rekindle connection – the stats

  • 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 side this calendar year (W3 D2 L13).
  • They have now failed to score in five consecutive Premier League away games against Liverpool, with Sadio Mane the last player to score at Anfield for Saints in the competition in October 2015.
  • Mohamed 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 time this season.
  • Trent Alexander-Arnold created five chances in the match, his most in a single Premier League game since February 2020 (six vs West Ham).
  • Mane has scored two goals in his last three Premier League games for Liverpool, having netted in just one of his previous 14.
  • Thiago became the 140th player to score a Premier League goal for Liverpool, and the first to score his first goal from outside the box since Divock Origi in December 2015.

What next?

Liverpool’s rearranged game at Manchester United will take place on Thursday (20:15 BST), before they visit West Brom on Sunday (16:30).

Southampton host Crystal Palace on Tuesday (20:15) and have another home game on Saturday against Fulham (15:00).

Reds fighting for top four 'miracle'

Player of the match

AlissonAlisson

Line-ups

Liverpool

Formation 4-3-3

  • 1Alisson
  • 66Alexander-Arnold
  • 47Phillips
  • 46R Williams
  • 26Robertson
  • 6Thiago Alcántara
  • 3Fabinho
  • 5Wijnaldum
  • 11SalahSubstituted forOxlade-Chamberlainat 87′minutes
  • 20JotaSubstituted forFirminoat 79′minutes
  • 10ManéSubstituted forJonesat 90+3′minutes

Substitutes

  • 9Firmino
  • 13Adrián
  • 15Oxlade-Chamberlain
  • 17Jones
  • 21Tsimikas
  • 23Shaqiri
  • 58Woodburn
  • 76N Williams
  • 89Koumetio

Southampton

Formation 4-4-2

  • 44Forster
  • 2Walker-Peters
  • 35Bednarek
  • 4Vestergaard
  • 5Stephens
  • 32WalcottSubstituted forDialloat 66′minutes
  • 8Ward-Prowse
  • 17Armstrong
  • 11RedmondBooked at 61mins
  • 10AdamsSubstituted forDjenepoat 79′minutes
  • 23TellaSubstituted forObafemiat 66′minutes

Substitutes

  • 1McCarthy
  • 12Djenepo
  • 14Obafemi
  • 22Salisu
  • 27Diallo
  • 31Ramsay
  • 40N’Lundulu
  • 47Ferry
  • 64Jankewitz

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