Liverpool beat Southampton to boost top four hopes

Liverpool beat Southampton
Liverpool beat Southampton 2-0

Liverpool boosted their hopes of Champions League qualification by beating Southampton to put pressure on fourth-placed Leicester City.

Newcastle United beat the Foxes 4-2 on Friday and Jurgen Klopp’s men took full advantage by moving within six points of the top four with four games remaining – while Leicester have three.

Sadio Mane opened the scoring against his former club, heading home Mohamed Salah’s cross moments after Alisson had made two saves in quick succession.

Alisson gifted Southampton a chance to equalise late in the game when he passed straight to Che Adams, but the Brazil goalkeeper made amends by saving the Scotland striker’s shot.

Spain midfielder Thiago Alcantara then scored his first Liverpool goal in stoppage time to hand Klopp his 100th win at Anfield in all competitions and his side a welcome clean sheet, with the inexperienced Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams their centre-back pairing.

Southampton are still not safe from relegation but their Premier League status could be secured when West Bromwich Albion and Fulham play later this weekend.

After being imperious at home in the past three seasons, Liverpool’s title defence faltered mainly as a result of losing six top-flight games at Anfield for the first time in 67 years.

But despite being on a run of just one win from their last 10 league games at home, they made a bright start against Southampton with Salah twice testing Fraser Forster early on and Diogo Jota firing straight at the former England goalkeeper.

Liverpool’s stand-in captain Georginio Wijnaldum also headed against the top of the crossbar from a corner, while a Saints break resulted in Alisson having to make a point-blank save from Adams with Nathan Redmond firing straight at him from the rebound.

Just 40 seconds later, Mane rose above Kyle Walker-Peters to head home Salah’s inswinging cross. Remarkably, it was the first time the forwards have combined for a goal in the Premier League this season.

Nathan Tella headed straight at Alisson just before the break, and after Adams spurned his opportunity late on, substitute Roberto Firmino fed Thiago to seal victory with a 20-yard strike into the bottom corner.

Phillips and Williams became Liverpool’s 20th centre-back pairing of an injury-hit season when they started the home defeat by Fulham on 7 March.

Williams had not started since, but with Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies ruled out with “minor fitness concerns”, the 20-year-old was reunited with Phillips, 24.

This time the academy products looked more assured than against the Cottagers. Williams gained possession more times than any other Liverpool player (eight), with Phillips making the most clearances (five).

They could not be faulted for Adams’ first chance as they were left exposed, allowing Tella to race clear.

And while they were missing when Tella rose unchallenged for his header before half-time, it was Alisson who was very much the culprit when Adams should have equalised in the second half.

The visitors perhaps got in behind the Liverpool defence more often than boss Klopp would have liked but there is no doubt his inexperienced defensive pair will have learnt a lot from further top-flight exposure.

Phillips in particular has shown up well with Liverpool’s three key centre-backs injured and if he can help his side to more clean sheets in their last four games, they could salvage something from a miserable campaign.