Liverpool are going the distance. And so is their pursuit of the Premier League title. It is a remarkable detail of their season that they will play in every game of the four main competitions, with the Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday week set to be the last one. Before that – and with the domestic cups already secure – they will attempt to complete the third leg of an unprecedented quadruple.
They will still need the league leaders, Manchester City, to slip up at home against Aston Villa on the final day on Sunday and what a storyline that could be. City have injury problems in defense and one particular Liverpudlian will be keen to capitalize – the Villa manager, Steven Gerrard.
Liverpool will have to beat Wolves at home and hope that City draw or lose but it will go to the wire after Jürgen Klopp’s team proved too strong for Southampton. Klopp rotated heavily, retaining only Alisson and Ibrahima Konaté from the lineup that had started the FA Cup final against Chelsea on Saturday and, for the opening 20 minutes, they struggled. Southampton were bright and they led through Nathan Redmond.
But thereafter, it was an exercise in Liverpool reeling them in. Takumi Minamino, who was on loan at Southampton last season, got the equalizer and, although Joël Matip’s winner was undercut by an element of fortune, it had been coming. Liverpool came to dominate the ball and there was only one team asking the questions in the final third.
Matip’s header was galling for Southampton, who had been resilient but could not avoid an eighth defeat in 11 league matches. Their season has fizzled out but, as Ralph Hasenhüttl noted with a little edge before kick-off, they have never been close to the relegation battle and a handful of clubs would gladly trade places with them.
Matip had his feet planted as a corner from Kostas Tsimikas flicked off Mohamed Elyounoussi and came towards him and the Southampton full-back, Kyle Walker-Peters. It was difficult to tell which player got his head to the ball first but then there it was, looping up and into the far, top corner.
It was game No 61 of the season for Liverpool – their third since 7 May, when Southampton had last played – and Klopp was always going to make changes. But it was still startling to see how many. Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah missed out with knocks while Trent Alexander-Arnold and Sadio Mané did not travel.
It was a balancing act for Klopp, his calculations taking in the likelihood of City messing it up on the final day and the possibility of getting injuries ahead of the Champions League final. In the absence of a crystal ball, he backed the strength of his backups; the “Ferraris in the garage” as he described them. They came to purr, although not without a misfire at the outset.
Klopp fumed on the touchline because when Lyanco started the move for Redmond’s goal, he appeared to go through Diogo Jota to get to the ball. No foul, said the referee, Martin Atkinson. The home team worked it up the left via Nathan Tella and it was immediately clear what Redmond had in mind. Cut inside and try the curler for the far corner. The shot got there, with the aid of a slight deflection off James Milner.
Southampton’s start was impressive. They were 5-4-1 without the ball, Redmond at left wing-back, Tella at left midfield but both of them tried to push up on the counter. Armando Broja ran the channels hard.
Liverpool set about repairing the damage and what pleased Klopp the most was how they took the setback in their stride. Roberto Firmino thought he had equalized with a header into the far corner from a Tsimikas free-kick only for the offside flag to go up late against him. Then Minamino did score.
It was an explosive finish from the winger, lashed high into the near, top corner after a neat move that prized Southampton apart. Joe Gomez’s ball in from the right found Jota and his layoff ushered in Minamino. The angle was tight and Minamino’s first two touches took him a little wider. It was a problem now. Alex McCarthy could only feel the heat from the finish.
It was pretty much all Liverpool thereafter, with Firmino especially sharp and elusive up front. They squeezed high and it was all Southampton could do to escape their own half. Milner worked McCarthy from distance and Firmino lashed a rising drive high. Jota would waste a decent chance after the interval while Harvey Elliott chipped into the side-netting.
Hasenhüttl was angry at Elyounoussi’s failure to clear the decisive corner at the near post and Southampton did not truly threaten an equalizer. Klopp had lost Gomez to an injury at the end of the first half but the manager suggested it was not too serious. Yet again, he finished the evening extolling the virtues of his special squad.