Chelsea won here impressively three weeks ago and Liverpool will feel they should have done so too, dominating a disappointingly supine Southampton side but failing to score. They remain on top of the Premier League table, ahead of Manchester City on goals scored, but Chelsea now can overtake them with a win at Middlesbrough.
Apart from the club colours, it could almost have been a Liverpool home game as Jurgen Klopp's men poured relentlessly towards goal, urged on by their noisy supporters. But there was no winner for the travelling members of The Kop to cheer, as Sadio Mane was denied a goal against his old club by England goalkeeper Fraser Forster in the first half and Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and another Saints old boy, Nathaniel Clyne, all missed good chances in the second.
Liverpool were without one of their other ex-Saints, Adam Lallana having failed to recover from the injury sustained on England duty against Spain on Tuesday. But with Coutinho surprisingly passed fit despite a hamstring problem and a long journey back from international duty, the black-clad visitors still forced Southampton back in the early stages.
The difficulty was finding a way through the mass of bodies, especially as the final ball and the first touch had to be perfect with space so restricted. And there one or two words from their players to Mark Clattenburg, the referee, after some hefty challenges from the home players.
Saints were also missing a key player, playmaker Dusan Tadic absent after breaking his nose, and they struggled to impose themselves on the game. Right back Cedric Soares was an unexpected outlet, trying his luck with a 20-yarder that went a yard wide and floating in a cross that Loris Karius fisted away when a simple catch did not look difficult.
But Liverpool continued to look more threatening and only Forster prevented them from taking the lead in the 28th minute. Saints could not clear a cross from the right and Georginio Wijnaldum's clever diagonal pass from 18 yards out found Mane in a few yards of space. His shot seemed bound for the top corner until Forster dived to his left to palm the ball away.
Forster was scrambling across goal five minutes later to ensure that Coutinho's 20-yarder went just wide, and was grateful to defender Virgil Van Dijk five minutes before half-time for a sliding block as Mane charged into the penalty area and lined up a shot. And Forster had to watch Wijnaldum's 25-yard shot carefully as it whistled just over the bar.
Saints were still mounting only isolated forays into the Liverpool half and when Charlie Austin got into the penalty area and looked for support, the nearest teammate was barely in the same half of the pitch.
Nothing much changed after the interval. Firmino chased a ball into the Southampton penalty area only to have his shirt tugged by Van Dijk, and infringement not spotted by referee Clattenburg. Mane tried once again to score against his former employers, slaloming between defenders and shooting low, Forster grabbing the ball by his near post at the second attempt.
And Liverpool should have scored when Firmino and Coutinho broke away against a single defender, but although Firmino's pass was perfect, Coutinho's shot was nothing of the sort, a horrid shank that took the ball away from goal rather than towards it. Next, central defender Joel Matip passed up two chances, failing to get his head to a free kick and then a corner when in inviting positions.
Would Liverpool pay for their profligacy? They nearly did just short of the hour as Austin met Soares' cross from the right but headed wide under pressure from Clyne. But they did not learn. Coutinho's pass sent Firmino in but with only Forster to beat, he shot wide with the outside of his right foot.
Another attack, another miss: substitute Daniel Sturridge twisted and turned on the left before sending over a hanging cross that begged to be nodded into the net. Clyne did his best to oblige, jumping above both teammates and opponents, but his header went back across goal and wide of the post.
And that was Liverpool's last chance. They will be kicking themselves all the way back to Merseyside.
Southampton (4-3-3): Forster; Soares, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand; Hojbjerg (Reed78), Romeu, Davis; Redmond, Austin (Rodriguez 75), Boufal (Long 66).
Liverpool (4-1-2-3): Karius; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Henderson; Wijnaldum, Can (Sturridge 78); Mane (Origi 90), Firmino, Coutinho.
Referee: M Clattenburg.
Match rating: 6/10
Man of the match: Van Dijk
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