With only three days rest — as a consequence of the Europe League final being played on Wednesday night — since Liverpool’s victorious 120 minute exertion in Saturday’s FA Cup final, Jürgen Klopp elected to trust his squad, making made nine changes to the team that defeated Chelsea.
The gamble paid off, as the replacements did everything you’d expect from the regular starters, dominating possession, dragging Southampton defenders around and creating shot and chances from both open play and set pieces throughout.
While the hosts did go up a goal early, courtesy of a deflected long range effort and a piece of shockingly inept refereeing from soon-to-be-retired — but now coach at the PGMOL — Martin Atkinson, they never truly looked like keeping the Reds out, and although there was some fortune about how the winner was scored, it was nothing less than the visitors’ dominance deserved.
Below we look at some of the winners, losers and narratives on the night.
Old Man Milly: About to wrap up his 20th straight season in the Premier League, James Milner is largely described these days as the sort of player you keep around mainly for his standard-setting attributes on a day-to-day basis, the kind of professional you’d like your younger players to model their approach to the game around, but not necessarily one that is expected to contribute all that much on the pitch any more.
Milly is a special breed, though, and while this was only his eighth start in the league this year, the 36-year old did not look like a man who has two decades at the most high-intensity level behind him.
Sitting in an unfamiliar role as the deepest-lying midfielder — behind adventurous youngsters Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott — Milner dictated proceedings in the first half, racking up two shots, five key passes, and making three out of three attempted tackles. After Jordan Henderson came on for Joe Gomez in the second half, Milner moved to the right-back slot, where he was less influential, but still did more than enough to merit his involvement.
At this point, the debate about whether this season will be his last is going to follow Milner until he retires, but on tonight’s evidence — and despite his current contract running out in six weeks’ time — there is little chance he won’t be pulling on the red shirt next season as well.
Winamino: Liverpool’s top scorer in this season’s League Cup and FA Cup did not get to feature in either of the two finals. Until tonight, he had not started a single game in the Premier League this year — although he had scored two goals in the 86 substitute minutes he had played in the competition.
With Klopp requiring large-scale rotation to manage fatigue, Takumi Minamino was called upon, and again, he delivered the goods. Receiving the ball from Diogo Jota down the right-hand channel, the Japanese international took a touch and absolutely leathered an unsaveable ball into the near-side top corner, taking the teams level.
Like Divock Origi before him, Minamino has become the epitome of the Liverpool squad player under Jürgen Klopp; happy to train and work hard despite rarely getting starting minutes over the more talented players ahead of him, and making a legitimate impact when the time to do so arrives. His goals may not be quite as iconic as the Belgian’s, but Minamino’s contributions this year will have been critical to the Reds’ trophy haul.
The Child: Making his first Premier League start since September — although the exact reasons he has been left out of the squad entirely following his encouraging return from injury are somewhat mysterious — Harvey Elliott did not look to have missed a step. With the team missing both of their major progressive passers in Trent Alexander-Arnold and Thiago, the responsibility to get the ball up the pitch fell on the youngest player on the pitch, and aided by a man who made his Premier League debut before he was born, the former Fulham man duly delivered.
Falling into the right-side rotation, Elliott alternated between dropping in deep to pick up the ball and pass or carry it forward, providing width to tug at the fringes of Southampton’s back-line, and driving into the box to make a telling impact. Three shots, three key passes, a dribble and a tackle was terrific production in the 65 or so minutes he played, before being replaced by Divock Origi with the Reds chasing a goal.
He nearly got a goal as well, drilling Roberto Firmino’s slightly overhit pass into the side netting from a tight angle, and — as has often been the case when he features — the performance was and immensely encouraging snapshot of what the Reds’ midfield future could look like.
Oh No Gomez: Victim to a number of dramatic knee and ankle injuries that have kept him out for long stretches in the past, Joe Gomez must be wondering which malevolent being he has upset to deserve this amount of misfortune. In a regular duel with Nathan Tella, the centre-back got his leg caught under the Southampton man, twisting his left knee — the one most recently operated on — painfully, and had to be substituted at the half.
Amateur analysis indicates a dislocation of the sort that would probably incur ligament damage — as would images of Gomez leaving the stadium in a boot — but Jürgen Klopp will wait for the scan result and hopes for the best, so we should as well. Fingers crossed!
What Happens Next
It all comes down to the final day of the season, as the Reds will need a win against Wolverhampton at Anfield, while Manchester City must drop points at home to Aston Villa. The Reds will be competing for all four trophies until at least May 22nd, an historic effort from one of the greatest teams you will ever see, and we hope you’re enjoying every second of it.