It was unconvincing, it was last-ditch, it was downright exhausting, but crucially for Liverpool, it was victory. They are back on top of the Premier League with their rivals’ fixtures about to get significantly tougher.
The performance, it has to be said, wasn’t good. But Liverpool won this game thanks to a big call from their manager and a big moment from a big player.
The Reds seem to be in a ‘win by whatever means necessary mode’, and so there may well be more gruelling affairs before the season is out.
Here’s an assessment of how each player fared under the lights at St Mary’s.
Alisson was powerless for the goal and, though the Southampton did look dangerous, he had little to do otherwise.
His distribution wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was significantly better than we saw in his jittery performance against Spurs.
Joel Matip was predominantly at fault for the opener, marking nobody in particular and allowing Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to charge into space behind him and tee up Shane Long.
To his credit, though, he improved in the second half as Liverpool shored things up and got his head to plenty of Southampton’s crosses. Once again he attempted marauding runs forward, one of which led to a good opportunity while another started a dangerous counterattack. Caution would probably be best in the circumstances.
Partner Virgil van Dijk turned in a pretty solid display at his old stomping ground amid a hostile reception. He was relied upon to repel the early waves of Southampton pressure and predictably stepped forth for his team. He’ll probably be annoyed, though, that they have now gone five games without keeping a clean sheet.
Liverpool’s full-backs were, in the first half at least, the most dangerous attacking outlets, but defensively they were suspect. While Trent Alexander-Arnold delivered a superb cross for Naby Keita’s equaliser, it proved the right call to take him off relatively early: Nathan Redmond was causing him all sorts of problems, and Liverpool needed to seize control of the game.
Trent did narrow the deficit in his assist competition with Andrew Robertson, who fluffed his lines when released into space down the left channel with the game tied at 1-1. That wildly overhit cross could have proven a crucial moment without Mohamed Salah’s individual brilliance.
Fabinho, whose absence against Spurs left supporters perplexed, was tasked with shielding the defence but failed to do so. In the tackle, he was uncharacteristically weak, and in possession, he was dangerously sloppy. Until Jordan Henderson and James Milner were introduced, Southampton were able to bypass a midfield he was charged with marshalling.
This was arguably his poorest performance in a Liverpool shirt, but he has shown enough to suggest he’ll make a swift return to form.
Georginio Wijnaldum was frankly anonymous in his 58 minutes on the pitch – James Milner only had two fewer touches in half as long a cameo – but Naby Keita did fairly well on his return to the starting line-up. His first goal has been a long time coming, and it was a well-directed, powerful header which Angus Gunn couldn’t keep out.
He could have done more in the final third thereafter and was guilty of surrendering possession too easily in midfield on one or two occasions, but there were signs of encouragement.
On then to the front three. First, there’s Sadio Mané, who couldn’t really make an impact in the final third but did still come up with a vital contribution – a weighty challenge on the edge of his own box which set the counterattack leading to Salah’s goal in motion.
As ever, Roberto Firmino’s efforts went well beyond that of a conventional forward. Two clearing headers from dangerous Southampton set-pieces epitomised his endeavour. At the other end, his assist for the points-sealing third was excellent – a neat turn followed by a pass that was on a plate for the arriving Henderson.
Firmino hadn’t had the best first half, but his efforts in the closing stages will likely mean this is remembered as a vintage performance.
Salah too struggled for large parts of the game, with the big Saints defenders capitalising on some poor touches and wrestling him off the ball.
His team needed inspiration, but he went one better: he came up with some magic. Supporters the world over were screaming for him to release Firmino as he hurtled towards goal, but the thought didn’t even cross his mind. He evaded the challenges, picked his spot and dispatched the ball into the far corner with fatal aplomb.
It will be a huge not just for his confidence – he can now relax after looking so desperate to put his drought to bed – but, potentially, for Liverpool’s title ambitions. This was a classic case of a top player producing a moment of quality to save his side.
But, somehow, the man of the match goes to Jordan Henderson after scarcely half an hour on the pitch.
Henderson was marked out here by his burning desire. Liverpool didn’t look like a team desperate for glory until he charged onto the pitch and into challenges in an almost frenzied state.
After his introduction, Liverpool won control of the midfield and, from there, their quality made the difference. The pattern of the game changed, as did its atmosphere. Jurgen Klopp’s players had never really looked panicked, but noticeably after the hour mark, they were imbued with a fresh determination.
And that’s really what Henderson’s performance was all about. He didn’t single-handedly win the game by any means, but he set a tigerish example for his team-mates to follow.
Consider that alongside the glorious passion he showcased when celebrating a well-taken goal, and he looked every inch a skipper.
Where, then, does this leave the Englishman for the remainder of the season? Henderson had something to prove when he came on and successfully demonstrated to the manager that he is worthy of an integral role in the run-in. Only fitness-induced rotation will keep him out of this Liverpool team now.
At St Mary’s, he had the air of a man who knows what winning this title would mean to supporters and also knows that leading the team to it could be the defining moment of his career.