Liverpool took another big step towards Champions League qualification with an important win on the South Coast. Goals from Suarez, Sterling and Gerrard secured all three points in a fixture that had proved difficult for the Reds in recent times.
Liverpool made one change before the match, bringing Joe Allen, who made an impressive cameo against Swansea last week, into the starting eleven in place of Raheem Sterling. Southampton also made just one change, replacing Maya Yoshida with Dejan Lovren; his first start since he suffered an injury against Sunderland back in January. The Croat scored the winner at Anfield when the two sides met in September, which remains the only home loss Liverpool have suffered this season. Liverpool were searching for their first win since 2012 against Southampton, and their first St Mary’s victory in 11 years.
Both teams struggled to settle into their rhythm early on, and were guilty of misplacing easy passes. Liverpool wasted a flurry of corners early on, while Skrtel was forced to clear some dangerous balls from the Southampton midfield. Lallana in particular caused the Reds a lot of problems, as he found a way past Flanagan on several occasions, and used the vast amounts of space that was left between the midfield and defence. However it was Liverpool who took the lead, after Sturridge’s pass to Suarez wasn’t dealt with by the Southampton defence. Fonte’s touch on the ball was poor, and Suarez seized on this to score his 24th of the season, confidently placing his shot in the bottom right hand corner of Boruc’s goal.
If anything, the goal spurred Southampton on, and the home team were by far the dominant team for the rest of the half. Liverpool weren’t playing with their usual fluidity, Coutinho in particular was guilty of misplacing several passes. The midfield three of Gerrard, Allen and Henderson struggled to win the ball back, and Flanagan found it hard to deal with the pace of Shaw throughout the first half. Lambert blasting a shot over from just inside the penalty area was the start of a continuing flurry of Southampton chances. Mignolet had to be alert to punch a corner away from Lambert, and Lallana hit the post shortly after, following a decent knockdown from Lambert. A missed Flanagan interception almost proved costly, as Shaw used his pace to get in the advanced position to put a decent cross in. However Lallana didn’t have time to control the ball, and his first time shot went wide of the left hand side of the post. Lallana, Lambert and Rodriguez continued to link up brilliantly, without producing an end result. On this occasion, Lallana’s backheel was picked up by Lambert, and fed through to Rodriguez, who failed to get a shot on goal. Liverpool enjoyed a brief break from the sustained pressure, and Suarez almost made it 2-0, with a first time half volley from a Sturridge cross. Boruc did well to save the powerful shot down low, and prevent Suarez from grabbing a second of the game. Schneiderlin came close to an equaliser, controlling the ball in the box, but shooting over with his volleyed effort. Mignolet was forced into a great save towards the end of the half, after Shaw’s cross found Rodriguez in the middle. The Belgian managed to parry the strong effort and grab hold of the ball at the second opportunity. The half time whistle will have come as a relief to Rodgers, who was lucky to be ahead after a tough 45 minutes.
The introduction of Gaston Ramirez at the start of the second half brought about even more attacking prowess for the Saints, putting a few decent crosses in and dancing his way through the Liverpool midfield. Skrtel produced one of his best performances of the season, dealing with most of the crosses into the box and blocking many of the shots the home team managed. The turning point of the game came from the bench. Coutinho was hauled off by Rodgers for Sterling, who was surprisingly left out of the starting eleven. It took the England winger one touch to make a major impact, finishing calmly down the middle of a goal from a Suarez pass. The goal relieved a lot of the tension for Liverpool, and Suarez might have made it 3-0, were it not for his selflessness. Rather than shooting first time, Suarez opted to play Sturridge in, only for the ball to fall in an uncomfortable position. The shot did come for Henderson, but his left footed shot went well over the bar, summarising the performance of the midfielder. Gerrard almost scored from outside the box, however Boruc was alert to tip the powerful shot away for a corner. The last ten minutes were a procession for Liverpool, who knew that their fourth straight win allowed them to leapfrog Arsenal and Manchester City into second place. There was time for one final opportunity, when Suarez was fouled inside the box. Gerrard stepped up, and as with all his other five penalties this season, he scored, securing a slightly flattering 3-0 victory.
Liverpool’s unbeaten start to 2014 in the league continued, but with crucial games against United, City and Chelsea coming up, Rodgers knows that wins like this are crucial if they want to play in the top level of European competition next year, or even challenge for the title.