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RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: It isn’t just Liverpool’s leading lights who have the mentalities of monsters… ALL components of Jurgen Klopp’s squad seem ingrained with the same collective refusal to back off from a scrap
Ralph Hasenhuttl called it their Champions League final. Give him his due, he has an imagination. Given him a little more, his bunch rose to it.
For a time, anyway. Between the 13th and 27th minutes, Southampton made it their business to get in the way. They led 1-0 with a corker from Nathan Redmond and, in that sliver of a single evening in a long season, Liverpool had blown it. Given it to Manchester City. Coughed it away with an understrength side to an inspired one.
But they got there in the end. Takumi Minamino hit a nice equaliser and Joel Matip lobbed the winner off his head – when it looped in, Jurgen Klopp punched holes into thin air. He did so again when the whistle went after a hard-won slog in the most unexpected of places.
Jurgen Klopp’s gamble to make nine changes on Tuesday night paid off with another victory
Joel Matip’s second-half winner means Liverpool take the title race to the final day on Sunday
And so the quest lives on. Two out of four ain’t bad, four from four would be history, and for now there is a chance.
The odds still favour City, but for them, that would be as good as it gets. For Liverpool, they can still talk of a quadruple.
That such an immense outcome remains on their table owes much to their powers of perseverance in a tough game, with those on Klopp’s fringes proving once more they know how to have a ruck when it is needed. That it isn’t just their leading lights who have the mentalities of monsters, and all that.
On the subject of rotation, the gag here was that Klopp picked a team for a Carabao Cup tie. No great harm in that – they won the Carabao Cup. They won the FA Cup, too.
On the subject of rotation, the gag here was that Klopp picked a team for a Carabao Cup tie
So to sneer at a Liverpool second string this season is somewhat akin to comparing a machete to a gun. In the wrong hands, both are pretty nasty.
And of course they were up against Southampton. In better times, Southampton are a decent team with a good manager; these aren’t the better times – they had lost seven of their previous 10.
But nine changes? Even if we factor in Liverpool’s injuries and the lack of time since they went to penalties against Chelsea, that felt a little steep. A little too much of a departure from what we are likely to see in the Champions League final.
Roberto Firmino came into the starting XI and was a standout performer at St Mary’s
Who of this side can we expect to line up against Real Madrid? Alisson, certainly. And then? One of Ibrahima Konate and Joel Matip, probably, and perhaps Diogo Jota if injuries persist, but all other cases feel thin.
So there was a risk, a slight chancing of the arm 37 games into their league season and 61 into the broader campaign.
Among those chosen, Harvey Elliott had his first league start since that awful dislocation of his ankle in September and next to him in midfield was James Milner, a first-rate professional of 36 who made his Premier League debut in November 2002, 145 days before Elliott was born.
Klopp brought Jordan Henderson on as the Reds piled the pressure on City ahead of Sunday
There was also Joe Gomez, on a fifth league start. And Curtis Jones – his 11th. For Kostas Tsimikas, it was a 10th, and a sixth for Minamino, a loanee at Southampton as recently as last season.
His most recent Liverpool start in this competition was against Crystal Palace in December 2020 and that, tied to him hitting the equaliser, really is the point – if the beauty and art of Klopp’s Liverpool comes from its starting XI, then its success is plainly mined from its squad.
All components, from the over-stretched to those used sparingly, seem ingrained with the same collective refusal to back off from a scrap.