Manchester City’s title challenge has received another massive boost with ladder-leaders Liverpool falling to a shock defeat to Southampton.
A brilliant lob in just the second minute from former Reds player Danny Ings proved to be the difference between the two sides on Tuesday morning (AEDT), with the score ending 1-0.
At the final whistle, Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl couldn’t contain his emotions as he dropped to his knees and appeared to burst into tears.
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The Austrian, sporting a tracksuit and cap just like his Liverpool counterpart, Jurgen Klopp, eventually picked himself up to congratulate his players and celebrate the groundbreaking win.
Before the match, Hassenhuttl had never taken a point from Klopp — who also arrived in England from the Bundesliga — in his managerial career.
Since losing 9-0 to Leicester 15 months ago, Hasenhuttl has guided the Saints to wins over Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur on the way to 73 Premier League points.
Meanwhile, the Saints’ clean sheet means Liverpool is now goalless in nearly three full matches — the leanest spell since Klopp took over.
Oddly, Liverpool has now scored just one goal in three matches since it routed Crystal Palace 7-0. That goal came 12 minutes into a 1-1 draw with West Brom on December 28.
Tuesday’s loss means Manchester City stays four points behind Liverpool but with two games in hand.
The English champions remain top of the table on goal difference over Manchester United, but have now played a game more than the Red Devils and haven’t won in three consecutive league games.
Southampton are only four points off the top as they moved up to sixth in a tightly bunched division with just seven points separating Liverpool from West Ham in 10th.
Southampton had not scored in their last three games to temper their hopes of a push for European football, but took just two minutes to break the deadlock in style through former Liverpool striker Ings.
Liverpool did not deal with James Ward-Prowse’s angled free-kick into the box and Ings perfectly hooked his shot over Alisson Becker into the far corner.
Southampton had key absentees themselves with goalkeeper Alex McCarthy missing due to a positive test for coronavirus, while Oriol Romeu, Jannik Vestergaard and Che Adams were out injured.
Fraser Forster was making his first Saints appearance since May 2019, but the former England international was rarely tested to earn his clean sheet.
The visitors could easily have found themselves 2-0 down before the break when Southampton substitute Nathan Tella was inches away from his first senior goal with a curling effort from the edge of the area that flew just wide.
If Klopp’s men were too passive in the first-half, they started the second-half with the intensity they have made their trademark in recent seasons as Southampton were pinned inside their own half.
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Sadio Mane was the visitors’ biggest threat on his return to St Mary’s as Jack Stephens made a last-ditch challenge to block his route to goal before Kyle Walker-Peters was lucky to escape without conceding a penalty for obstructing another burst from the Senegalese into the box.
Thiago Alcantara was making just his second Liverpool start since a much-anticipated move from Bayern Munich, but even the Spaniard’s range of passing could not cut through Southampton’s determined defence.
Mane had Liverpool’s only shot on target 15 minutes from time when his tame effort was easily held by Forster low to his left.
Southampton could have sealed a huge win moments later when Alisson was caught well off his line by Yan Valery, whose shot lacked the power to beat Henderson in a race to the goal line.
Liverpool so often dug themselves out of problems with late goals in romping to the title last season, but have failed to do so over the festive period, also dropping points against struggling West Brom and Newcastle.
United and Manchester City now hold the upper hand in the title race as they can both move ahead of Liverpool should they win their games in hand.