Liverpool

Joel Matip is the unlikely hero as Liverpool take title race to final day

Matt O'Connor-Simpson
Joel Matip ensured Liverpool beat Southampton
Joel Matip ensured Liverpool beat Southampton / GLYN KIRK/GettyImages
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It is easy to look at the full-time result in isolation and think this was inevitable, but Liverpool's 2-1 victory over Southampton was far from the walk in the park that many predicted before kick off.

Jurgen Klopp's Reds started the game like a team that had scarcely played together before - and that was because they were.

Partly due to injury and partly in attempt to lessen the physical and mental fatigue that he has spoken about on several occasions recently, Klopp made nine changes. It was no surprise that these alterations left gaping holes that even a side as goal-shy as Saints were able to exploit.

Early on, Kyle Walker-Peters bypassed the entire Liverpool midfield and defence with an alarmingly simple clip down the line which Armando Broja nearly scored from.

A few minutes later Liverpool were caught comically open again - and this time it would prove fatal. Nathan Redmond was set away down the left-hand side and he had all the time in the world to cut inside and unleash an effort past a stricken Alisson in the Liverpool net.

Finally, this sparked the visitors into life and before long they pressure paid off with Takumi Minamino lashing home after lovely work from Diogo Jota in the box.

Endless pressure followed as the first half bled into the second, but still the Reds could not find the net. Surprisingly though, Klopp did not have to 'call in the big guns' to get the job done, in the form of Sadio Mane and Thiago Alcantara who were both sat on the bench.

Instead, not for the first time this season, Liverpool's salvation came from an extremely unlikely source - Joel Matip.

Matip has been quietly sensational this season, re-cementing himself as Virgil van Dijk's go-to partner despite fierce competition from summer arrival Ibrahima Konate and former first-team stalwart Joe Gomez.

The fact that it was Matip's strange, deflected, looping header that kept the Reds' season alive should perhaps not come as that much of a surprise. He is the third unconventional hero to step up at a particularly key moment for Klopp's charges this season.

First it was Caoimhin Kelleher, who stroked home the winning spot kick in the Carabao Cup final. Then it was Kostas Tsimikas, who clinched Liverpool's first FA Cup since 2006. Matip completes the trio is Matip, grabbing an ugly goal when it seemed like nothing would go in on the south coast.

This trend highlights the egalitarian nature of Liverpool's squad - especially this calendar year.

Earlier in the campaign Mohamed Salah was winning games on his own.

However, as things have progressed the squad and particularly the fringe players - who Klopp described as 'Ferraris in the garage' in his post-match press conference - have pushed each other to new heights, battling through a crazy fixture schedule to keep their quadruple dream alive.

Who knows, perhaps another unconventional protagonist will emerge against Wolves this weekend.


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