Goalscorers in Liverpool’s past have been revered. Whether it be Ian Rush or Robbie Fowler, Michael or Fernando Torres, every generation has a hero they have put on a pedestal as the saviour. Since Luis Suarez left for Barcelona three years ago and Daniel Sturridge’s injuries have played havoc with his form and confidence, The Kop has been struggling to find another slotsman to take close to their heart. With an incredible fourteen goals so far this season, nine of them coming in the league, maybe Mohamed Salah will be next in line for the goalscoring throne. He certainly staked his claim to do so on Saturday by putting Southampton to the sword.
Jurgen Klopp made a couple of changes to his starting XI from the team that beat West Ham 4-1 in Slaven Bilic’s last game in charge of the Hammers before the international break. Joel Matip gained an injury during training in the week so was replaced by Dejan Lovren, who himself had recovered from a back problem. Joe Gomez was left on the bench, despite his impressive performances for England, and was replaced by Trent Alexander-Arnold. Jordan Henderson returned to the side in place of Emre Can, as did Philippe Coutinho for James Milner. Sadio Mane was a surprise name on the team-sheet after apparently picking up a knock while playing for Senegal. That meant that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was also consigned to the subs bench, an unfortunate fate considering he was on the scoresheet against West Ham.
Mauricio Pellegrino had a couple of selection issues of his own on his return to Anfield. Virgil van Dijk was included in the team amid continued rumours regarding his future with both clubs involved in the game. He would play alongside Wesley Hoedt, who was preferred to Maya Yoshida. Shane Long would start up front instead of Manolo Gabbiadini.
Liverpool took control from the off. Southampton tried to gain a foothold in the game but were struggling for possession. Their gameplan seemed to be to hit Shane Long over the top, but Liverpool were wise to it and cut them off in the midfield. Twelve minutes into the game Southampton nearly gifted Liverpool the lead. van Dijk miscontrolled and Fraser Forster seemed to have the situation under control. That was until Cedric Soares put the goalkeeper off his clearance and neither player effectively cleared. Mo Salah closed in but Soares eventually managed to get the ball away from danger. Minutes later Mane fizzed a ball across the box for Salah but the Egyptian could only fire his volley wide. Liverpool looked like we were in the mood. Southampton looked sluggish and prone to errors.
Liverpool continued to create chances. Gini Wijnaldum curled one towards Forster’s goal from the right edge of the box, but his shot was a good height for the ‘keeper and he beat it away with strong palms. Not long later Coutinho attacked the Southampton box before firing towards goal. Forster was equal to it again, managing to help it wide with his fingertips. Southampton looked like they could buckle at any minute and their resistance was broke on thirty one minutes.
Liverpool had a corner on the right which was swung deep into the box by Coutinho. van Dijk calmly nodded it down to Dusan Tadic on the edge of the Southampton box, who tried to dribble out of trouble. His poor decision was soon capitalised on by Wijnaldum, who dispossessed Tadic too easily. The loose ball fell to Firmino on the eighteen yard line, who slid it to Salah on the corner of the area. Salah trapped it with the underside of his left boot before majestically curling an effort beyond Forster and into the Anfield Road End goal. It was no more than Liverpool deserved provided by our most lethal player at his technical best. Liverpool weren’t done there though – neither was Mo Salah.
Liverpool continued to dominate for the next ten minutes and, on forty one minutes, Coutinho had the ball again 30 yards from goal. Roberto Firmino used his tactical nous to not do the typical forward movement of running directly into the box. Instead, he held his position parallel to Coutinho. It was a decision which would leave the Southampton defence in disarray, as Virgil van Dijk rushed out of the defensive line to mark Firmino. In doing so he left a massive whole behind him, which Mo Salah exploited to the fullest. He sprinted into the space which Coutinho played the ball into. As hands were raised in the away defence for offside, Salah took one touch to calm himself before slipping it beyond Fraser Forster and doubling Liverpool’s lead. The game seemed to be over before half time. It certainly rounded off an excellent half for Jurgen Klopp’s men, who went it at the break comfortably ahead.
When the game restarted Liverpool ressumed their dominance. Philippe Coutinho was beginning to play more of a key role in the game and Southampton were simply powerless to stop him. In short, Pellegrino had got his tactics all wrong. His decision to play a central two in midfield was fatal as his side were regularly outnumbered by the power and energy of Wijnaldum, Henderson and the effervescent Coutinho.
Southampton brought on Charlie Austin in an attempt to finally gain a shot on target, but Liverpool were relentless and continued to carve opportunities. First Roberto Firmino was denied superbly by Forster before Coutinho dribbled by van Dijk only to pass his shot just wide of the Kop goal. Coutinho wouldn’t have to wait long to put things right though.
Roberto Firmino found himself on the corner of the area and was faced up by Ryan Bertrand. The England left back could do nothing to stop Firmino cutting inside him and firing a shot towards goal. Fraser Forster was able to instinctively stop the shot with his chest. The ball rebounded into the centre of the area and Coutinho came rushing in to side foot the ball into the back of the net first time, past the half-hearted, despairing, semi-dive of Forster. Despite the open goal, the finish was one of technical excellence. It had rebounded off Forster with pace and was bouncing as Coutinho rushed onto it at full pelt. To keep it down and on target was all Coutinho needed to do to score, but it was not an easy task and again displayed the magic this lad has in his boots.
With twenty two minutes to kill Liverpool seized further control of the game. Southampton were restricted to five shots on goal all day, not managing to hit the target with any of them. While their accuracy is an indictment of their own ability, their aptitude to create chances was limited by this red wave intent on suffocating them. When the referee eventually blew for full time, he called time on a result which was not flattering to Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have had many detractors this season. They have been criticised in all areas of the pitch. It is true that they have put in some turgid performances and it took them a long time to recover from the damaging loss at the Etihad to Manchester City in September. They were also abject at Wembley in October when they lost 4-1 to Spurs. However the response to that defeat in particular has been exactly what every Liverpool fan will have wanted. With Chelsea next to visit Anfield, and one player in particular with a point to prove against his former employers, you can’t help but look forward to the visit of Antonio Conte’s side.