St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton – Another strangely regular un-Liverpool performance this season. Travelling to the South Coast to play against a relegation-threatened side, off the back of rivals Arsenal and Manchester United suffering defeats. This match was almost tailor-made for the Reds to slip up, but they did nothing of the sort.
It only took 6 minutes for the visitors to take the lead, Mohamed Salah teeing up Roberto Firmino after a piece of catastrophic defending from Hoedt. Surprisingly, the Saints actually responded well to conceding; enjoying the larger chunk of possession and creating some decent openings.
All their momentum was vanquished minutes before halftime, however, as Salah and Firmino exchanged a lovely one-two before the former calmly slotted the ball into the bottom corner.
From the moment that ball hit the back of the net, the game was wrapped up as a contest and Liverpool were set to return to winning ways. Here are the three key talking points after the 2-0 win over Southampton:
1 – No Need to Check the Blood Pressure
Bar the odd game when the team refuses to turn up (Swansea), or the instances when a late scurry or moment of magic is needed to secure the 3 points (Burnley, Leicester); Jurgen Klopp’s men are starting to make a habit of winning comfortably.
An inability to manage games well has been one of the main criticisms levelled at the German throughout his time at the club. However, something that has probably gone under the radar has been how well his side has done this season, in that regard.
Sunday’s 2-0 win adds to an ever-increasing catalogue of comfortable days at the office, which includes: the reverse 3-0 win at Anfield, both 3-0 wins over Huddersfield, the 5-0 drubbing of Swansea, and the 4-0 dismantling of Bournemouth, among many others.
These under-the-radar victories are undoubtedly the reason why Liverpool have managed to creep into 3rd place in the league, only two points off Manchester United.
The trick for these wins seems to be taking the lead within the first 25 minutes of the match, and killing the game off before the opposition is allowed to grow in confidence. When this Liverpool team gets that much right, then they very rarely drop points. Southampton know that all too well this season, being outscored 5-0 in the two fixtures against the Reds.
The contest was so dead during the second half of Sunday’s match that the home fans had seemingly become bored of booing the plethora of ex-players donning the now famous orange of Liverpool. The Merseysiders came to the South Coast, asserted their dominance, then left, more of the same please.
2 – Loris Karius Impresses Yet Again
When it was announced by Jurgen Klopp in January that Loris Karius had become his new number one goalkeeper, and that he would be a regular feature until the season’s end, there were mixed responses from fans.
Some thought that this was a very good thing, as the German hadn’t really been given a prolonged stint in the team prior, and believed that this could unlock his latent potential.
While others held the opinion that no current available option in goal would be good enough, and that Jurgen Klopp should not have bothered and just splashed the cash before the window closed instead.
Only time will tell which side is correct, but one thing that can be mutually agreed on is the German’s clear improvements in recent weeks. His heroics last week, which included saving a Harry Kane penalty, was followed up by maybe his most convincing performance for the club to date.
When the tide turned in Southampton’s favour after the opening goal, Karius was a major reason as to why the score was never levelled, rushing off his line brilliantly to deny Højbjerg before tipping a Ward-Prowse header over the crossbar.
He was controlling of his area, and had solid distribution throughout the match. Despite what one’s opinions on him as a player might be, he’s growing in confidence and that can only be a good thing for the club.
3 – Firmino and Salah Light Up the Show
It didn’t take long to see that these two were in the mood. Just six minutes in fact. Pouncing onto a disastrous attempted clearance from Hoedt after a ball from Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mohamed Salah swiftly teed up Roberto Firmino who only needed one touch to slot the ball past McCarthy.
There really wasn’t much between the teams in the first half, in fact Southampton were arguably the better side, but Salah and Firmino made all the difference.
This was exemplified best when in the 42nd minute of the match, Joel Matip played the ball into the feet of Salah on the edge of the box. The Egyptian controlled and turned skilfully before passing to Firmino and jetting off into the penalty area.
The Brazilian knew what he wanted to do as soon as the pass came to him, sending the ball through to Salah with an exquisite back-heel that did his nation proud. The weight and direction of the flick was absolutely perfect, as the Egyptian didn’t have to break stride in order to tuck it away.
The two attackers set each other up for their respective goals and the 2nd of which marked the 47th league goal that either one of them has been directly involved in this season. 22 goals and 7 assists for Salah, and 12 goals with 6 assists for Firmino.
These numbers are impressive enough, but considering the fact that it’s only February makes them absolutely ridiculous. Keep in mind that this isn’t even taking into account their records from the Champions League so far, which is another conversation in-and-of-itself.
One thing that’s easily forgotten is how unexpected these figures are from these two players.
Mohamed Salah was returning to England with most people only remembering him from his disappointing stint with Chelsea. It was perplexing to some why Liverpool would pay £35m for a ‘reject’ but he took no time to put that to rest.
And Roberto Firmino had to show that he’s capable of getting the goals and assists necessary to be considered a ‘top striker’. They said Liverpool needed a 25 goal-a-season striker, well he already has 20.
The brilliance of these two really has not received the praise it deserves, and frankly most Liverpool fans would prefer it that way.