Liverpool’s razor-sharp attack proved decisive once more to lead them to a 3-0 victory over Southampton at St Mary’s and take them up into second place in the Premier League.
Luis Suarez was the key figure and he put the visitors in front early on before setting up Raheem Sterling to score just seconds after he came off the bench just before the hour mark. The victory, made more emphatic by Steven Gerrard’s injury-time penalty, means Liverpool move above Arsenal, who lost earlier in the day, on goal difference. Four points still separate them from first-placed Chelsea, but Liverpool are now very much in this title race.
Once again Liverpool profited from their forward prowess. Having gone in front from what is becoming a trademark fast start, Southampton gained the ascendency and exploited some of the defensive flaws that Liverpool had, despite Joe Allen coming into the starting lineup to reinforce the midfield. But crucially, Mauricio Pochettino’s side couldn’t make their dominance count on the score-sheet and Liverpool ruefully made them pay when Sterling grabbed a decisive second goal. To their credit, Liverpool then did well to shut down the game and Brendan Rodgers will be delighted to have kept a clean sheet for the first time in a month.
It is their attacking threat, though, and particularly their front two, that means that can’t be written off in the race for the title. Both Suarez and Daniel Sturridge were to the fore early on. Having got free down the right, Sturridge looked set to square it for Suarez to tap in, but his pass just lacked pace and allowed Jose Fonte to get back and turn the ball behind. With 16 minutes on the clock, both were involved in putting their side in front.
Southampton crucially switched off from a throw in, allowing Suarez to play a one-two with Sturridge. His strike partner’s touch was poor giving Southampton the chance to clear, but instead Lallana’s poke away from Sturridge came off the knee of the prone Fonte and fell perfectly for Suarez in the box to finish with aplomb and end his mini-goal drought.
After going behind, the first-half was almost entirely one-way traffic in Southampton’s favor. Adam Lallana was key, with the England international continually displaying his intelligence to find openings in the large amount of space between Liverpool’s midfield three and their back line. Southampton also exploited the space that was afforded them out wide by their opponents’ narrow midfield.
Both of Southampton’s young full-backs were enjoying the lack of a direct opponent and each helped create a fine chance to get the home side level. First Callum Chamber’s cross was chested superbly by Rickie Lambert into the path of Lallana but, under pressure from Daniel Agger, he failed to make clean contact with his strike and watched it come back off the foot of the post.
An equally glaring opportunity soon followed. This time it was Luke Shaw that provided a clever low cross which was met by Jay Rodriguez with a placed effort that Simon Mignolet did superbly to get a strong hand too, despite his weight going the other way.
Liverpool, meanwhile were being hampered from regaining their momentum by Southampton’s intense high pressing. Despite having, on the balance of play, having been the better side in the opening half, Pochettino surprisingly made a shift in personnel and formation by bringing off Steven Davis for languid playmaker Gaston Ramirez.
Southampton continued to pressure early in the second-half, but it turned out to be a Liverpool substitute who would ultimately decide the game. Rodgers has rightly earned widespread plaudits for his coaching, but even he couldn’t have foreseen how quickly his decision to replace the largely anonymous Philippe Coutinho with the in-form Sterling would reap dividends.
From Gerrard’s slide-rule pass, Suarez showed his instant awareness to turn Dejan Lovren and get in behind the Southampton defense. And the scorer of Liverpool’s first goal provided a perfect pull-back for the smartly positioned Sterling to finish low past Artur Boruc with his first touch.
The goal effectively ended the game as a contest, with Pochettino lacking the strength in depth to make impactful changes off the bench. Entering the final minute of injury time, Suarez put the exclamation mark on what was another memorable individual performance as he turned Fonte inside and then out before being clearly tripped in the box. Gerrard placed the spot kick perfectly into the top corner as Liverpool made it four wins on the bounce in the Premier League.