Sadio Mane supershow sees Reds avoid unnecessary psychological blow
Liverpool verdict - Sadio Mane supershow sees Reds avoid unnecessary psychological blow as title race begins
Ian Doyle gives his verdict on Liverpool's victory over Southampton as Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino fire the Reds to three points
By Ian Doyle Chief Liverpool writer
17 AUG 2019
The quality may not always be there at present. But when it comes to digging deep, Liverpool clearly have character in spades.
A potential banana skin was sidestepped in what is becoming trademark fashion for a Reds side that, while not fully functioning, are leaning heavily on the growing self-belief that no matter what the situation, no matter how testing the predicament, they know how to get the job done.
Add in the sprinkling of stardust provided by Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino , then such resolve will often provide reward.
And after a testing week of minutes played and miles travelled, there was a huge puff of the cheeks at the final whistle having been kept on the edge for the most part by Southampton’s game approach and their own occasional dip in standards.
Similar to last year, Jurgen Klopp ’s side haven't exactly hit the ground running this campaign.
But, as 12 months previous, they remain capable of getting results.
In what is likely to be another title battle of such small margins up against champions Manchester City, every single slip, every single dropped point will be scrutinised to the nth degree.
Let’s face it. After 40 minutes of persistent misfiring, Liverpool would have happily taken a point here at St Mary's.
Come the closing moments, though, such an outcome would have delivered an unnecessary psychological blow so early in the season, such was the game-changing influence of Mane’s blistering opener, the Senegalese subsequently turning creator for Firmino, the Brazilian another attacking standout in these early weeks.
Mane remains the man, a second successive decisive contribution following his double in Wednesday's UEFA Super Cup win over Chelsea
His outrageous strike in first-half injury time, taking the ball inside the left-hand edge of the area before curling right-footed into the top corner beyond the flailing hand of Southampton goalkeeper Angus Gunn, was his 20 goal of the calendar year – eight more than any of his team-mates.
It transformed Liverpool and the pattern of the match.
Harassing Southampton defender Jan Bednarek into a mistake then paved the way for Firmino's goal on 71 minutes, the Brazilian progressing from left to right beyond two defenders before finding the bottom corner with an unerring finish.
Liverpool have now won 11 consecutive Premier League games for the first time, meaning Jurgen Klopp has reached 300 points in his 146 game in charge. Kenny Dalglish, the previous quickest, did it after 150.
The full-time relief came after a nervy finale prompted, with seven minutes remaining, by the otherwise solid Adrian carelessly blasting a clearance against former Reds striker Danny Ings that flew into the net.
The goalkeeper, passed fit after his bizarre ankle injury in Istanbul, had a warning first half when another pass was charged down by James Ward-Prowse for a goal kick.
Adrian, though, has at least acquired one trait from the man he has replaced.
Alisson Becker wasn’t without blemish last season – consider the blunders against Leicester City and Manchester United – but the collective response meant they weren’t costly.
Mane's sensational opener was completely out of keeping with a slipshod first-half Liverpool performance that bore all the hallmarks of a team that had been put through the wringer thousands of miles away less than 72 hours earlier.
The Reds consistently made the wrong decision: passes astray, interceptions missed, promising openings spurned, and their insistence in playing the ball out from the back giving Southampton continual encouragement.
Two moments neatly encapsulated their travails in the first 45 minutes.
At one point, Trent Alexander-Arnold, in possession on the right flank by the halfway line, had so few options available he proceeded to simply blast it back to Southampton.
And a little later, Klopp was left with his hands in his head as an opportunity for Liverpool to forge forward was instantly curtailed by a pass towards their own goal that put Joel Matip in all sorts of trouble.
Despite his later mistake, Adrian could point to a fine save to keep out Yoshida's header from point-blank range and a second-half parry from Matip's timely interception, although the goalkeeper would have had no chance had Che Adams found the target with a free header with the scores still goalless.
The midfield had raised questions in the previous two games, not offering quite the same protection for the defence while unable to create.
The personnel was almost completely overhauled here, Gini Wijnaldum in at number six, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – making his first Premier League start since April 2018 – in a more accustomed central role after an unhappy midweek stint on the left of the attack.
And with James Milner putting in the hard yards – and earning a war wound after a first-half clash of heads with Ward-Prowse – Liverpool gradually found their feet to dominate the second half.
Things began to click. Oxlade-Chamberlain grew in confidence , Firmino found the pockets, Mane stretched the defence. Only Mohamed Salah, who had spurned one first-half chance, wasn't quite on his level.
Firmino missed a good chance before his goal, while Mane and Andy Robertson were denied by Gunn in the second half, but it required a bad miss from Ings to prevent Southampton snaffling a point during the frantic closing stages.
Liverpool deserved that fortune, however. It wasn't always pretty, but it was pretty effective – a good ending to an ultimately encouraging week for the Reds.
Copyright - Liverpool Echo