It was a choice between watching the excruciating indecision of the premier or watching an endearing and tired Southampton side defeat the champions in style for the millions tuning in at home.
Liverpool was defeated for just the second time this season in the league, but Jurgen Klopp spent most of this absorbing game, determined after 112 seconds by a casual Danny Ings shot, running through the technical field and beyond with Basil Fawlty’s self-control. The title is in Manchester United’s possession now.
Since the striker returned to Southampton, Klopp has made his respect for Ings plain, but perhaps the greatest compliment was the one awaiting him here in the form of the lineup of Liverpool coaches, in which Klopp lined up Jordan Henderson in central defense alongside Fabinho.
In fact, the Liverpool team strategy was a “Spot the Defender,” game, and while it was an unorthodox center-back pairing, in his reasoning, Klopp cited Henderson’s telepathic relationship with the Brazilian, albeit “a few yards in front” of the Liverpool back line, and also insisted that if his captain was missing out of position, he would take full responsibility.
It was a frenetic game that was breathless and rousing from the moment Klopp left his spot on the advertisement hoard next to the away dressing room.
Klopp’s roster consisted of three strikers, four midfield attackers and two of the world’s best full-backs. To address Southampton’s hostile press, Klopp opted for such an attack-minded and daring side, but Liverpool struggled to cope with the strength of the hosts. In his first start since October, Thiago Alcãntara was given an early caution and Andy Robertson was not far behind after a rough foul on Stuart Armstrong, his former teammate at Dundee United and now in Scotland.
Klopp was able to embrace Henderson’s critique, but not for a tepid result. When Robertson was angry and furious after Liverpool fell behind after less than two minutes, he went berserk. Behind Trent Alexander-Arnold, who was caught watching, James Ward-Prowse curled a free kick and Ings lofted over Alisson after a fine pass. Thiago got a yellow card a minute later and Klopp went on a rampage. “Wake up,” he roared.
It was Hasenhüttl, if it were not Klopp.
To make his voice known, neither manager needed a megaphone.
The roaring Hasenhüttl, back on the sidelines after taking blame for the stalemate against West Ham a few miles away last week, was hard to miss, having every last sinew out of his players.
Dressed in their mint green camouflage, Liverpool was conspicuously missing in the first half and failed to record a single shot on target.
The assistant referee suggested that Mohamed Salah was offside when Fraser Forster, who was making his first appearance at St. Mary’s in more than three years, came on.
Just before halftime, Salah headed across the goal from a Sadio Mané cross, but in fact Southampton was supposed to have gone with a bigger lead into the locker room. After Ward-Prowse had released Ings, Nathan Tella, a first-half replacement for the injured Moussa Djenepo, fired narrowly wide and Henderson had to be on his guard to clear the ball away.
Liverpool were longing for the final whistle by the time the fourth official, Stuart Attwell, showed four minutes of first-half stop time.
By replacing Xherdan Shaqiri in place of former Southampton midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Klopp waited for ten minutes after the break to turn things around, but he made his feelings clear at the break.
Intentionally, Alexander-Arnold surged forward, but his cross went unused and fired on target shortly after Georginio Wijnaldum. His shot appeared to strike Southampton defender Jack Stephens’ arm, but it was seen differently by video assistant referee Andy Madley.
It was called a ‘unbelievable’ decision by Pepijn Lijnders, while Klopp remonstrated with Attwell.
Stephens was fortunate, but moments later, his block to deny Mané was superb.
Stuart Armstrong and Jan Bednarek sacrificially threw themselves into the fray, but had Henderson not cleared the ball off the line in injury time, Yan Valery’s replacement would have settled the game for good.