Over to you, Stevie! Liverpool set up Gerrard for final-day heroics after keeping title race alive

Roberto Firmino Liverpool 2021-22Getty Images

Match statistics: Southampton 1-2 Liverpool

Over to you then, Steven Gerrard.

The Premier League title race is going to the wire. A nervy final day is assured after Liverpool did what they had to do at Southampton on Tuesday.

Their 2-1 win at St Mary’s keeps them within a point of Manchester City, and means only victory will be enough to guarantee Pep Guardiola’s men their fourth league championship in five seasons.

In their way stand Aston Villa. In their way stand Philippe Coutinho and Danny Ings, former Liverpool men.

In their way stands Gerrard, perhaps the biggest Reds hero of them all.

He couldn’t, could he?

Jurgen Klopp can only hope. His side must take care of their own business first, of course. They must beat Wolves at Anfield and pray for good news from the Etihad Stadium.

Stranger things have happened, even though you have to go back all the way to 1989 to find the last time the team that started the final game of the season top of the league failed to clinch the title. The losers on that occasion, of course, were Liverpool themselves.

Whatever happens this weekend, Klopp can and will be proud of his players. What an effort they have put in this season, and what an effort they put in here on the south coast, in what was their 61st game of a gruelling campaign.

Jurgen Klopp Liverpool Southampton 2021-22
Getty Images

Having outlasted Chelsea to win the FA Cup on Saturday, the fear was that this would be a game too far for the Reds, who may understandably have had one eye on that Champions League final with Real Madrid in Paris on May 28.

They lost Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah to injury at Wembley, having seen Fabinho tweak his hamstring at Villa last week. Others have run themselves into the ground recently, meaning Klopp had little choice but to rotate heavily for this fixture.

His starting XI showed nine changes from the cup final, with only Alisson Becker and Ibrahima Konate keeping their place. The likes of Sadio Mane and Trent Alexander–Arnold were given the night off entirely, while others, such as Jordan Henderson, Andy Robertson and Luis Diaz, were kept for emergency use only.

And so Liverpool asked their fringe men to step up once more. Harvey Elliott made his first appearance since March, and his first Premier League start since September, in a midfield which also contained Curtis Jones and James Milner.

Milner was playing in the Premier League before Elliott was born, would you believe. Talk about a dad-and-lad duo.

Takumi Minamino was also brought in from the cold. The last time the Japan international started a Premier League game, last May, he was wearing a Southampton shirt.

The last time he started one for Liverpool, though, he scored, and sure enough it was Minamino who got Klopp’s side back on track after Nathan Redmond’s deflected strike had given the Saints an early lead.

It was a lovely move, Joe Gomez finding Diogo Jota in the box, and when Jota rolled the ball into Minamino’s feet, the 27-year-old had the composure to take a touch before rifling a fierce strike high inside Alex McCarthy’s near post. It was his 10th goal of the season. He wasn't even on the bench at Wembley. "A crime," Klopp admitted.

Liverpool deserved the leveller. They had dominated after Redmond’s goal, their midfield aggressive and composed and their forwards repeatedly winning the ball in dangerous areas.

Southampton were awful - their players ended the night performing a ‘lap of appreciation’ in front of a stadium that was at best a quarter full - but take nothing away from Klopp’s men. To a man, they were superb.

Their final reward came midway through the second half when Kostas Tsimikas’ corner took a touch off Mohamed Elyounoussi at the near post and found Joel Matip, whose header clipped off Kyle Walker-Peters and looped into the net. A lucky break, but one that was certainly well earned.

It got nervy. Of course it did. The stakes are high, even if Liverpool know a City slip is unlikely. "We need to learn how to play down time without getting into trouble," smiled Klopp.

They needed the brilliant Konate to stand tall as Southampton peppered their penalty area in the closing stages. Milner ended the game at right back following an injury to Gomez. Yet again, the veteran delivered. He and Matip can battle it out for the crown of ‘Best Liverpool free transfer of the last 20 years’ eh?

Article continues below

The final whistle was greeted with relief as well as joy. Milner and Konate left the field shirtless, having made two young fans’ nights in the away end. Klopp pulled out the trademark fist pumps as the travelling Kop saluted their heroes. Wait until you hear the noise at Anfield on Sunday afternoon.

One more miracle? Maybe, just maybe.

Gerrard has produced enough of those for Liverpool down the years, after all…