Liverpool were held to a goalless draw at Southampton, failing to score for only the third time this season.
The home side paid the ultimate compliment to Jurgen Klopp’s team, dedicating itself to defence in order to blunt the visitors' attacking trio.
Liverpool had chances, especially in the second half when both Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne missed easy opportunities to win it, but at times the Saints defending was heroic.
This is the challenge facing Klopp's Liverpool, who remain top on goals scored.
It takes more than swashbuckling to win a title. There comes a point when every contender has to demonstrate its' capacity to grind as much as thrill, and this could be looked upon as an encouraging as much as frustrating point.
Klopp knew before the trip to St Mary’s this would be the latest test of his side’s credentials, not just because they were trying to preserve their status as league leaders, but Southampton are a fine side.
Some of the teams Klopp’s side has dispatched have looked like fodder, but based on the defensive excellence of Virgil Van Dijk and Jose Fonte, there is a robustness to Claude Puel’s side.
Although the home fans spent much of the afternoon targeting their former centre-half Dejan Lovren, an appreciation of those who replaced him was more appropriate.
The Saints duo demonstrated why many are predicting they may be the next subject of massive bids.
Van Dijk’s duel with Mane dominated the first half, the Dutchman possessing both the pace and strength to repel the Senegalese striker.
A last-ditch tackle on 40 minutes as Mane scurried clear with just Fraser Forster to beat was the most eye-catching, although the defender would later be fortunate to escape being penalised for a shirt tug on Firmino. Mark Clattenburg ignored penalty appeals.
Fonte repeated the trick to disrupt Coutinho when he had a similar opportunity early in the second half.
On the one occasion Mane did find space in the box, Forster produced a world-class save to tip a right-foot shot over the bar.
Despite plenty of technical excellence, this was a feisty game where the robustness of defenders and midfielders was tested to its limit.
Liverpool began to find more space in the second half, and Can missed an ideal opportunity to breakthrough on 65 minutes as the combinations between Mane and Firmino became more frequent.
Firmino missed the easiest chance of all a minute later, toe-poking wide with the goal gaping after an exquisite Coutinho pass. Klopp’s frustration was growing as the chances kept coming and going.
He sent on Sturridge in search of a winner and was almost rewarded instantly when the England striker perfectly crossed for Clyne. The header was an inch wide.
Southampton just about held on, but it was a tribute to Liverpool’s form that the home side had needed such caution and were so content with the draw.
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