There have been more spectacular performances from Liverpool this season, but none quite so comprehensive from back to front throughout the entire ninety minutes. This was a confident and accomplished demonstration of vast superiority against a side whom Liverpool failed to beat (or score past) on four separate occasions last season.
Three successive victories against Huddersfield, Maribor and West Ham saw Liverpool enter the international break on a relative high after steering their season back on track, with the likes of Adam Lallana, Sadio Mané and Philippe Coutinho all returning to the fold ahead of the most fixture-congested period of the season.
Indeed, Jürgen Klopp was finally able to field Coutinho, Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah in the same lineup for a Premier League game for the first time ever and perhaps unsurprisingly, Southampton found themselves overwhelmed and simply unable to cope with the speed and movement posed by Liverpool’s incisive attacking play.
In keeping with the pattern of recent victories, Liverpool did not come flying out of the blocks from the start, rather taking their time to ratchet up the pressure and move through the gears, although there was a definite sense of purpose with the pace at which the ball was shifted from side to side in the opening exchanges on this occasion.
The visitors were able to hold firm until the half-hour mark, only for Salah to make the breakthrough a minute later with a sumptuous curling strike from 20-yards- arguably his finest of a rapidly growing collection of Liverpool goals so far. Just ten minutes later, the Egyptian notched his second brace in as many games, calmly converting from close range after an intelligent run to latch on to Coutinho’s inch-perfect through ball.
While in recent times, a 2-0 lead has often felt like a precarious situation for Liverpool given the capacity for defensive capitulations, there was no sense of concern at any stage here as Liverpool strolled through the second half with consummate ease. Dejan Lovren made one excellent block to deny Sofiane Boufal inside the penalty box- the Croatian stepping up impressively on his return to the side after much justified criticism of late- but that moment aside, Southampton were unable to cause Liverpool’s back line any serious problems.
That said, the injury to Joel Matip further highlights the need for Liverpool to strengthen at centre back in January and attempt to make sure Virgil van Dijk is back at Anfield sooner rather than later- this time in red colours. Lovren and Ragnar Klavan will face much tougher challenges together should Matip remain out of the picture for some time and it is not a partnership which can be relied upon long-term.
It was Liverpool’s fifth clean sheet in the past seven games, with just a single goal conceded at Anfield in the Premier League this season- a pattern which, if continued, will go some way to ensuring a hefty points haul from home fixtures this season- and one which must now be translated into performances on the road as well.
The points were wrapped up in emphatic style in front of the Kop, as Mané’s clever pass released Firmino inside the area, with Coutinho on hand to follow up the rebound from Fraser Forster’s initial save, capping off a classy return from injury for the Brazilian with his fifth goal since rejoining the fold after his summer transfer saga. It was the kind of late run into the box which has become an important feature of Coutinho’s game and the hallmarks of all the best goalscoring midfielders.
In Salah, Liverpool now have the current top scorer in the Premier League, with the Egyptian now the fastest Liverpool player of all time to reach nine league goals, ahead of the likes of Robbie Fowler, Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez. Salah is now just one goal behind Lionel Messi in all competitions this season and has already surpassed both Mané and Firmino’s tallies from last season, continuing a sensational start to life on Merseyside.
Elsewhere, Firmino delivered another typically selfless and hugely effective display up front and could consider himself unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet, but such is the manner in which he creates space and carves out chances for those around him that he remains so integral to this Liverpool side. Jordan Henderson, likewise, asserted his presence all over the pitch, snapping into tackles, intercepting loose balls and controlling the midfield battle.
The one major surprise in the lineup was the absence of Joe Gomez after his man of the match display for England against Brazil last week, but presumably Klopp is saving his legs for the upcoming trip to Seville and the visit of Chelsea thereafter. His replacement, Trent Alexander-Arnold, stepped in seamlessly and delivered another hugely encouraging display, showing a maturity far beyond his years as he dealt comfortably with everything thrown at him while also offering an effective attacking outlet.
For Klopp to be able to take off Mané, Coutinho and Salah early with the result already secured is a luxury Liverpool aren’t used to, but the introduction of Emre Can, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (not to mention Lallana or Daniel Sturridge) was evidence of the strength in depth Liverpool have (everywhere but centre back) which will prove crucial for the gruelling winter schedule.
Liverpool appear to be developing a very useful habit of picking up points against lesser opposition without having to play at their absolute finest, instead finding a way to simply exert their superiority and control games from start to finish. Sterner tests lie ahead- particularly with Chelsea next up in the league- but Liverpool have now built a platform upon which to build and put together a sustained run of form.
We haven’t seen Liverpool hit their peak yet this season, but recent signs suggest they are gathering momentum just at the right time as the chaotic festive period looms large.