Liverpool 2: Coutinho 3', Sterling 73'
It was lucky, it was ugly, it was possibly even a little bit undeserved on the run of play, but in the end, it was a vital win for Liverpool over a very good Southampton side. That's two from two against Ronald Koeman's impressive squad, and while the win to start the season didn't carry as much weight at the time, it's now a significant accomplishment, one that might end up deciding whether or not Liverpool qualify for the Champions League at season's end.
From the outset it looked as though Liverpool were in for a long day, with Southampton in for a penalty shout within a minute. Kevin Friend denied the claim of Filip Djuricic, who went to ground easily under a slight touch from Emre Can. The home side's disappointment was compounded just over two minutes later, when Philippe Coutinho scored what is, to date, Liverpool's goal of the season. Thirty yards from goal and gifted time and space, the Brazilian hit a curling effort that somehow beat Fraser Forster and bent in off the crossbar. A stunning goal that deserved to hold up as a match-winner.
But for long stretches it didn't look as though it would, with Southampton pressing Liverpool effectively and clearly holding the upper hand it what seemed like an endless first half. The hosts were denied another penalty shout when Djurcic again went down under pressure, this time with Joe Allen clumsily dispossessing the Dutchman in front of Liverpool's goal. Liverpool had a claim of their own when Jose Fonte slid through Raheem Sterling, but with Kevin Friend content to position himself as a spectator at either end, both sides were left feeling aggrieved.
Despite their dominance, Southampton couldn't find an equalizer, and even after bringing Morgan Schneiderlin on to start the second half, they struggled to find a way through. The addition of Sadio Mane just before the hour brought with it an added threat up top, but chances never came despite Liverpool's apparent intent to gift them as many as possible.
The misery was complete for Koeman and company in the 73rd minute, when their lone defensive error of the match gave Raheem Sterling a sight of goal from 10 yards out. His low strike was nearly saved by Forster, but the power saw it through, and Liverpool leave the south coast as unlikely winners.
Few were better for Liverpool than Martin Skrtel, who was unwavering in central defense as Emre Can came to grips with a new deployment on the left of a back three and Dejan Lovren continued to struggle in his first start in weeks. Simon Mignolet was again excellent in goal, denying the hosts when needed and commanding his area well from set pieces. With Mamadou Sakho out injured--which is hopefully just a temporary absences--it was never going to be as composed, but they coped increasingly well as the match wore on.
Jordon Ibe turned in what's become a typically impressive performance, proving valuable at both ends and terrorizing yet another opposition left-back. Lazar Markovic couldn't cope on the opposite flank, however, and the decision to bring in Alberto Moreno at the half was an important choice from Rodgers. Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson enjoyed uneven days, likely to be judged harshly by those who don't prefer them and with understated praise by those who do.
Coutinho's goal was indescribably brilliant, but the rest of the day highlighted how badly he needs a night off, while Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling were mostly anonymous through the first half. A difficult occasion for the former and a tough assignment for the latter, who still managed to pop up with a goal to kill the match off with a quarter of an hour remaining.
For all the worries pre-match about fatigue and momentum--which still feel valid even after the result is final--Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers came through in a huge fixture, which leaves them just two points back of fourth. The conversation about Champions League qualification is unavoidable, as they're now above Spurs, one back of Southampton, and just two behind Manchester United.
Home dates with the two Manchester sides await, as do trips to Arsenal and Chelsea, but Liverpool have cemented their place among the contenders, and look set to continue their charge through the season's second half, worries be damned.
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