Danny Ings’ second minute effort was the difference as Southampton moved into the top six of the Premier League with victory over champions Liverpool.
The Saints produced an exemplary defensive performance to prevent the Reds to just one shot on target as they put bodies on the line to ensure they started 2021 in the best possible fashion.
For Liverpool, they missed the chance to move three points clear of Manchester United at the top of the table and go three games without victory after defeat at St. Mary’s.
Both teams made three changes from their respective fixtures last time out, with Che Adams and Oriol Romeu notable absentees from the Saints squad altogether. Ibrahima Diallo and Moussa Djenepo came into the starting line up along with keeper Fraser Forster after Alex McCarthy tested positive for Covid-19.
Liverpool meanwhile, handed Thiago Alcantara his second Premier League start with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain making his first start of the season against his former club. Gini Wijnaldum also came in to midfield with Jordan Henderson and Fabinho forming a partnership at centre-back for the Reds.
Saints strike early
The Saints couldn’t have got off to a better start as they broke the deadlock just two minutes in. James Ward-Prowse clipped a free-kick in behind and Ings was first to react, and he lifted the ball brilliantly over Alisson and into the far corner from a tight angle.
Liverpool’s response was a strong one, as Mohamed Salah found Roberto Firmino but he pulled his low effort wide of the post before Henderson fired over after the hosts couldn’t clear Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner.
The Champions looked to take control of the game, but Southampton continued to pose a threat going forwards as Ings teed up Djenepo, but the winger could only fire over with his first time effort.
Djenepo’s evening was cut short when he limped off injured on the half hour mark, replaced with Nathan Tella, before Sadio Mane created space for a shot on the edge of the area but failed to test Forster in the home goal as he fired over the top.
Youngster Tella then almost made his mark as he turned away from Fabinho but his drive from the edge of the area went just wide of the post with Alisson beaten. Ward-Prowse then released Ings in behind of the Liverpool defence, but Fabinho recovered to intercept the striker’s pass across which would’ve given Theo Walcott a tap in.
But the Reds almost drew level in stoppage time of the first half when Mane created room on the left to get the cross in and pick out Salah, who jumped between defenders but headed narrowly over the bar.
Liverpool started the second half a lot better than they did the first, and put the hosts under pressure right from the restart with a succession of corners but failed to really create anything in front of goal, although they did have appeals for a penalty turned away as Jan Bednarek appeared to block a Salah strike with an arm.
Kyle Walker-Peters cushioned a header into the path of Walcott, but he could only fire well over from just outside the area as the hosts grew into the half, but they almost gifted Liverpool an equaliser as Ward-Prowse diverted the ball into the path of Mane, but Jack Stephens did well to recover and block the striker’s effort on goal.
Andy Robertson then played a neat ball through to Mane, but his cross was deflected just wide of his own goal by the toe of Bednarek as Southampton kept the visitors at bay, with Diallo producing a great tackle to prevent Mane getting on the end of Firmino’s pull back across the six yard box.
Another great block – this time from Stuart Armstrong – denied Alexander-Arnold after a neat through ball from Salah as Liverpool continued to press heading into the last fifteen minutes, with Mane then forcing Forster into a low save at his near post.
Thiago then had a shot blocked by Stephens before Southampton nearly doubled their lead. Stephens broke forward and played in substitute Yan Valery, who beat Alisson to the ball but his effort didn’t have enough power and Henderson recovered to clear the danger.
Still Liverpool pushed forwards desperate for an opportunity, and as the board went up for three added minutes Robertson looked to pick out Firmino, but the Brazilian couldn’t react in time and the ball rolled into the grasp of Forster.
The Reds earned a corner in the last minute of stoppage time – up came Alisson, but Henderson could only head over as Southampton earned a magnificent three points to start the New Year in style.