The Reds made nine changes but took the Premier League title race to the final day with a hard-fought 2-1 win at St Mary’s Stadium on Tuesday night. Nathan Redmond opened the scoring after just 13 minutes, but former Saints loanee Takumi Minamino levelled the contest before a late Joel Matip header kept the pressure on league leaders Manchester City.
Klopp rotated his starting eleven after the FA Cup final went to a penalty shootout just three days’ prior, and was full of praise for the performance of his bench players. However, the former Borussia Dortmund boss was left frustrated by referee Atkinson’s role in the opening goal.
Klopp was incensed by the decision not to penalise Lyanco for a foul on Diogo Jota, and the move concluded with Redmond stepping inside and beating Alisson from range via a deflection. The Reds boss could not hide his fury on the touchline, although Sky Sports pundit and former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher believed it was a 50/50 decision.
That did not stop Klopp taking aim at Atkinson in his post-match interview, and recalling a similar incident during Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Manchester United in October 2019. Marcus Rashford fired the Red Devils in front, with the referee allowing the hosts to play on following a collision between Victor Lindelof and Divock Origi.
Speaking following the win over the Saints, Klopp told Sky Sports: “For me, it was a foul. But we have been in a similar situation when Martin Atkinson has not given a foul on one of our players and (Marcus) Rashford scored a goal, it was exactly the same. Afterwards, he said yes we could have spotted that, but who cares?”
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Adam Lallana eventually grabbed the equaliser for Liverpool on that occasion against Manchester United, but the incident for the opening goal led Klopp to question the role of VAR. The Reds boss claimed Atkinson allowed the match to play on due to the belief VAR would correct any potential mistake, but no intervention was forthcoming as the incident did not meet the high threshold of the ‘clear and obvious’ test.
Klopp told reporters at the time: “The ref let the game run because he has VAR, but the VAR then says it was not clear, so they don’t overrule it. That doesn’t make too much sense. It’s a clear VAR issue. I am not angry or whatever, it’s just wow. I saw it was a foul and nothing else. Mr Atkinson I’m sure would have whistled if there was no VAR involved, but now we have somebody else who can make the decision. But somebody else is not making the decision.”
Liverpool’s victory over the Saints means Manchester City’s cushion at the top of the table is cut to one point ahead of a tense final day of the season. The Reds host Wolves and will need to win due to an inferior goal difference, while hoping Pep Guardiola’s side are unable to beat Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium.