Koeman euphoric as Mane dents Liverpool’s challenge
The most surprising sight here was not Liverpool losing a two-goal lead at a ground where they had won 6-1 three months earlier but Ronald Koeman racing down the touchline to join the collective embrace of his players after Sadio Mane’s late winner.
The Dutchman, 53 today, is known for his placid demeanour in the Southampton technical area but he was unable to contain his glee after watching his players upset the odds. “It’s the first time and I think it’s the last time,” he said of his celebration. “I’m still tired. Tomorrow it’s my birthday and today I get the best present.”
Mane joined the fray only at halftime but there was still time for him to miss a penalty and score twice to sweep away Liverpool’s lead.
The Senegalese had not scored since that 6-1 League Cup defeat but was eligible to play here after having his red card at Stoke overturned, though Koeman chose instead to leave him on the bench.
“That was the Sadio we like,” said Koeman of the former Red Bull Salzburg forward. “Sadio had a dif- ficult time the last few weeks so I hope it gives the boy a boost, his performance.”
It’s a defeat which leaves Jürgen Klopp’s side seven points off the Champions League places, a competition they can surely now only qualify for by winning the Europa League. “Twenty-seven points still to get. If we get all of them, there’s a chance,” he smiled.
Liverpool had looked in complete control after a breathtaking five-minute spell put them two up at half-time.
Another moment of brilliance from Philippe Coutinho changed the momentum of the game as he cut in from the left to curl a wonderful strike past Fraser Forster.
Five minutes later, Divok Origi tore past the bemused Jose Fonte to feed Daniel Sturridge who feigned to shoot and then clinically did so, low into the bottom left corner. It was his fourth goal in three starts against Southampton and seventh in total this season.
It ought to have been even better for Liverpool. Forster saved superbly at point-blank range from Joe Allen before Allen had a goal ruled out with Mamadou Sakho adjudged to have impeded Forster from an offside position.
Before that, Southampton had started well and were incensed when Roger East refused to award Shane Long a penalty after the Irishman appeared to be shoved over
by former Saint Dejan Lovren, who was being booed with every touch on his return to St Mary’s.
“In my opinion it’s 100 per cent a penalty,” said Koeman. The Croatian centre-back was booked soon afterwards for lunging at Long and, feeling he was in danger of a red card, Klopp replaced him with Martin Skrtel at the break.
The Slovakian endured a miserable second-half up against Graziano Pelle and conceded a penalty for pulling the Italian’s shirt five minutes after the break.
Mane struck the ball firmly to the left corner of Simon Mignolet but the Belgian saved superbly to seemingly extinguish any hope of points for Southampton. “We had a great spirit,” said Koeman. “The whole performance in the second half was perfect.” It was a spirit embodied by Pelle and Mane, with the Italian attempting a series of complicated and unnecessary flicks in a poor first half. “I wasn’t happy with his performance in the first half. He said ‘yes, I need to be better in the second half ’.”
He was, setting up both of Mane’s goals and scoring an excellent one of his own. The comeback started as Mane latched on to Pelle’s pass, shrugged off Sakho and finished crisply past Mignolet. A clever touch from Long then prompted Pelle to unleash a wonderful leftfoot drive from the edge of the area to make it 2-2. The Italy interna- tional looked close to tears. Following his two goals at Stoke, it was the first time Pelle has scored in consecutive games since September 2014.
There was still time for Pelle to again feed Mane who finished low into the right-hand corner to send Koeman into delirium.
Klopp described his over-riding emotion as “frustration” rather than “anger” but Liverpool have now lost the most points from winning positions in the Premier League this year. “I’m not that good a loser so I don’t feel brilliant but it’s football,” said the German.
“I saw a very very good first half. Second half, Southampton deserved the points.”
Saint and sinner: Saido Mane gets past Mamadou Sakho to score the winner