Liverpool 3 - 0 Southampton
Liverpool: Hoedt 10 (OG)’, Matip 21’, Salah 45+3’
Liverpool aren’t the only top flight English side with a perfect record in this young 2018-19 season - Chelsea will have the opportunity to match that distinction when they take on West Ham on Sunday - but they are setting the pace for others to match. And thus far, they are doing it with some degree of style, in the middle of a series of domestic and European fixtures that would test any club.
Mark Hughes’ Southampton were the latest side to come up against Jürgen Klopp’s Reds and come away empty handed. They would take on a Liverpool side that featured a few adjustments from the midweek group that took on Paris Saint-Germain. In James Milner’s place came Xherdan Shaqiri, while Roberto Firmino returned to the starting XI and Joël Matip made a rare appearance alongside Virgil van Dijk.
Recent vintage Southampton has occasionally posed some problems for Liverpool in the past, though admittedly some of the sting has been taken out of those encounters by virtue of the fact that the Reds have acquired a number of the Saints’ trickiest customers, like Sadio Mané and most recently Van Dijk. Hughes’ squad came into this contest with just five points from the first five league matches, and urgently needing to stop the bleeding.
As expected, the Saints arrived at Anfield looking to minimize damage from Salah & Co., hoping that Shane Long might wreak some havoc when opportunity presented itself. Klopp sprang a bit of surprise by starting Salah in the central striker role, with Mané to the right and Firmino left. Behind them was an all-action Shaqiri, eager to show he belonged among the starters, linking up with Robertson or Alexander-Arnold when needed, and exerting pressure when off the ball.
The Saints were not without threat, and when they did push from their half, they did so with menace and purpose, rarely wasteful with their limited possession. A few early passes found Long in dangerous positions, and Liverpool had to rely on Van Dijk’s impeccable position as well as his sizeable frame to muscle the threat away.
Southampton’s enterprise paid off with a corner just before the ten minute mark, but the ball came to nothing, and was replaced by the chaos of Salah and Matip racing into space, unleashed by slack possession. Moments later, Liverpool had a corner of their own. It was taken by Shaqiri and cleverly shepherded back to the Swiss international by Mané. So unnerved were Southampton’s defenders that when Shaqiri’s cross came, it was bundled into the net by an unfortunate Wesley Hoedt. Liverpool now had an early lead.
To their credit, Southampton stuck to the plan, ceding some degree of control to Liverpool but quick to test the Reds’ back four when given the chance. Cédric Soares and Nathan Redmond, in particular, were persistent occupiers of Van Dijk and Robertson’s attention on the flank, and together, they conspired to test Alisson’s communication with his back four on a number of occasions.
Despite appearing a bit off last year’s benchmarks for precision and lethality, the trio of Liverpool forwards still looked well in sync, and in the twentieth minute, Salah looked certain to score when a quick one-two with Firmino left him with just the keeper to beat. An impressive Soares swooped in at the last possible moment to deny the Egyptian winger, but no matter for the Reds. A leaping Matip made it 2-0 with a well taken header from the subsequent corner.
Southampton could have, and arguably should have, cut the advantage to 2-1 minutes before halftime when more good work from the visitors found Højbjerg unattended on the penalty spot. He fluffed the shot to the relief of the defenders who quickly cleared the danger. Moments later, Liverpool had a free kick just outside Southampton’s box after Salah was adjudged to have been held back. Shaqiri’s effort was an excellent one, just catching the woodwork. Quickest to the rebound, Salah accepted the gift and notched the Reds’ third of the day.
After the restart, James Milner was summoned in place of Shaqiri - as it turned out, this was a move that suggests Shaqiri will have a key role to play against Chelsea midweek. Reverting to a more familiar midfield shape, it was now Liverpool’s turn to cede much of the possession to the visitors. Little of that possession presented any real danger to Alisson’s goal, even after Van Dijk had to be replaced by Joe Gomez with what looked like a bruised rib.
Alexander-Arnold and Robertson began to carry a bit more of the load of looking for Salah and Mané respectively, and while gamely pushing for a goal, Southampton were rubber-banding back and forth between trying to get past the back four and tracking the threat from Liverpool’s wingers. Gomez and Matip looked equal to the task, and when Naby Keïta made a 70th minute appearance for Gini Wijnaldum, whatever fizz was left in this contest rapidly evaporated.
There was a last card played by Hughes in bringing on Charlie Austin for Shane Long, but it was too little, too late. In the dying minutes of the match, Salah looked to have doubled his tally after putting the ball in the net following some ping-pong in the box from a Milner shot, but the effort was ruled offside. With little threat coming from Southampton, the Anfield faithful saved the last of their ire for the linesman. Next up for the Reds: Maurizio Sarri’s revitalized Chelsea side.