Liverpool made it two successive wins to start their Premier League title bid as goals from Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino clinched a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Southampton on Saturday.
Jurgen Klopp’s tired team were ragged in their passing and lacked organisation in defence, but still showed enough mental strength to come away with three points.
It was completely against the run of play when Senegal winger Mane put Liverpool ahead against his former club just before half time at St Mary’s.
Brazil forward Firmino scored a clinical second but a dreadful error by Reds goalkeeper Adrian gifted a goal to Danny Ings that set up a tense finish
Former Liverpool forward Ings should really have equalised to give Southampton what would have been a well-deserved point.
The reason for the Champions League winners’ lacklustre display was not hard to find.
While Southampton were recovering from their defeat at Burnley on the opening weekend of the season, Klopp’s men were in Istanbul, playing extra-time against Chelsea in Wednesday’s European Super Cup victory.
That gruelling trip seemed to take its toll against Southampton and Liverpool, who also faced Manchester City at Wembley in the Community Shield 13 days ago, looked out on their feet at times.
Liverpool soon began to struggle against a lively home side, who should have gone ahead after 21 minutes when Maya Yoshida got above Virgil Van Dijk to reach a corner from James Ward-Prowse, only to see Adrian parry his header to safety.
The Spanish goalkeeper was in action again just short of the half-hour, pushing out a low cross from Ryan Bertrand and for a few seconds all was chaos in the Liverpool penalty area as defenders tried in vain to clear the ball.
And neither Joel Matip nor Van Dijk dealt with a first-time cross by Ward-Prowse from the right, Che Adams getting between them to nod the ball over the crossbar.
– Second wind –
Mane gave Liverpool the lead in first half stoppage-time when he took a pass inside from James Milner before sidestepping a defender and curling a shot inside the far post.
That and the interval seemed to give Liverpool their second wind.
Mohamed Salah had an excellent chance to double their lead 10 minutes after half-time when he raced clear of defenders, but the Egypt striker failed to disguise his shot, allowing Angus Gunn to spread himself and save.
Firmino sliced the ball wide of goal after Mane had outpaced the defence and swept the ball in low from the left.
Southampton sent on Ings and he faded a shot just over the crossbar from distance.
But after 70 minutes Liverpool showed again how deadly they can be when teams relax against them even for a second.
Mane won the ball from Southampton’s own throw-in and found Firmino, who danced inside along the edge of the penalty area, waited his moment and shot low past Gunn.
Andrew Robertson was denied a goal-of-the-month contender when Gunn dived to his right to block the Scotland left-back’s volley after a quick exchange of passes with Mane.
Adrian had to save well when Matip deflected Stuart Armstrong’s cross towards the corner of his own net.
But the goalkeeper blundered badly with seven minutes left, hitting an attempted clearance against Ings’ right foot and back into goal under no pressure at all.
And Ings miskicked from six yards when any sort of contact would have produced an equaliser in the closing moments.