Liverpool battle to crucial win at Southampton…

Liverpool had to dig deep but ground out what could be a crucial win at Southampton.

Although Liverpool’s victory at a rain-soaked St Mary’s Stadium certainly wasn’t pretty, it could prove hugely significant in their bid to return to the Champions League.

On a weekend when Manchester United threw away three points at Swansea and Tottenham toiled to a draw against West Ham, the Reds travelled to a top-four rival with the best defensive record in England and won, underlining their remarkable improvement over the past two months.

Prior to kick-off, Brendan Rodgers may have been concerned about how his team would react following their Europa League exertions in midweek. Both Tottenham and Everton failed to win at home earlier on Sunday, with sluggish performances partly owing to the fatigue of having to play on Thursday evening.

But not for Liverpool. They had to grind out a result under heavy pressure from Southampton, displaying incredible efficiency by scoring and doubling the lead from their first two shots of the match. After winning by playing attractive flowing football in recent weeks, Rodgers will be encouraged that his team also know how to battle to three points when necessary.

Jamie Carragher was impressed on Sky Sports. “They’ve fought and got a victory today. They haven’t played great but they dug deep and they won,” he said. “Over the last few months since that Manchester United game, things have changed – the system, the performances and the results – they’ve been superb.

“The last two games they haven’t been like that (against Southampton and Besiktas), but they’ve won. You can’t play well every game, but they’re getting results now. Every time you play you think they’re going to keep it tight.”

That confidence in Liverpool’s resolve is supported by the Reds recording five successive clean sheets away from home in the league for the first time since 1985. They may have survived two early penalty appeals on Sunday, but on the whole they limited Southampton to speculative efforts – six of the hosts’ 13 attempts came from outside the box.

The turnaround in Liverpool’s form has been enormously impressive. When they dropped out of the Champions League on December 9, they were six points off the pace in the race for a top-four spot and had recorded twice as many defeats (four) as wins in their last eight matches. After drawing 1-1 with Basel, the following game brought a 3-0 thrashing by Manchester United.

The ignominy of that result at the lowest point of the season would have broken the spirit of many teams, but Rodgers’ plan to alter his system and play a three-man defence brought the enjoyment back to Liverpool’s performances. They have now lost only once – in extra-time against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup – in 18 fixtures since that loss at Old Trafford.

It all bodes well for another relentless run-in as the Reds look to replicate last their momentum of last season. At present, Rodgers’ side are top of the form table over the last ten games, with the joint-best goal difference alongside Manchester City.

If Rodgers can maintain this brilliant run of form, then a return to the Champions League is certainly achievable. Liverpool also have a second shot at that aim by winning the Europa League – and balancing the two competitions will be their priority over the next three months.

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