Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier purred his approval after El-Hadji Diouf's colourful Premiership debut at Aston Villa last Sunday, claiming that he had signed someone who could play in four different positions.
However, the aplomb with which Diouf registered his first two league goals here may have drastically reduced his employment options. Surely, the only proper place for him is right up there on the shoulder of Michael Owen or, more accurately, a few paces ahead of him.
Diouf does like to drift left and right and drop deep in search of the ball. But Liverpool already have Emile Heskey, who surprisingly found himself back in the side at the expense of last weekend's hero, John Arne Riise. In any case, Heskey is threatening to carve a new niche for himself as Diouf's provider.
Heskey has plenty of critics but none of them has a peg in the Anfield dressing room or a season ticket for the Kop, where the fans drool over his every touch. His first of the game was a drag-back inside Paul Telfer, followed by a cross-shot which Diouf turned in at the far post with the game just three minutes old.
An early goal for one of the Premiership title contenders always raises the prospect of them scoring as freely as Sachin Tendulkar. But Liverpool still seem overly wary when opposition teams invite them to attack.
Southampton regrouped and the neat, incisive football of Sweden's Anders Svensson encouraged them to launch an attack or two of their own. From one of his perfectly delivered through balls, James Beattie might have scored his first goal of the season if he had managed something weightier than a flicked boot in its direction.
Owen, determined to open his account after his penalty miss against Aston Villa, twisted past both Southampton's central defenders - and Paul Williams's determination to prevent him cost him a yellow card for pulling his shirt. Owen did sweep the ball into the net after Danny Murphy's free-kick struck the right post with such force that it left the frame of the goal vibrating. However, a linesman had flagged for offside.
Sami Hyypia looked like becoming the unlikely provider of a second goal just before half-time when he sent in a shot from the corner of the six-yard box. Only an acrobatic clearance by Telfer, who deflected the ball with his heel, prevented it going in.
When the second goal arrived, in the 50th minute, it was the sort of simple set-piece which doubtless left Strachan searching the physio's medical box for a blood pressure pill. Abel Xavier launched a long throw into the box, Heskey headed on and Diouf nodded the ball into the net without it touching the ground.
Still, Southampton refused to accept their fate and might have stirred up some uncertainty among the home crowd if Murphy had not scrambled back to clear Telfer's header off the line 25 minutes from time. Fabrice Fernandes also skimmed an effort off the crossbar before Murphy's penalty wrapped things up in the 89th minute, following Wayne Bridge's challenge on substitute Bruno Cheyrou.
Liverpool combined their minute's silence for the murdered Soham schoolgirls with a tribute to the recently deceased Nessie Shankly, widow of their greatest manager. And one could imagine Bill Shankly, somewhere above the Kop, growling his approval at the way this latest Liverpool side are beginning to shape up. Just imagine what a force they will be when Owen, who gave way to Riise in the 72nd minute, starts on one of his scoring sprees.
Liverpool: Dudek, Xavier, Hyypia, Henchoz, Traore, Murphy, Hamann, Gerrard (Cheyrou 85), Heskey, Diouf (Smicer 81), Owen (Riise 72).
Subs Not Used: Kirkland, Carragher.
Goals: Diouf 3, 51, Murphy 90 pen.
Southampton: Jones, Delap, Lundekvam (Michael Svensson 44), Williams, Bridge, Telfer, Anders Svensson, Marsden, Fernandes, Pahars (Tessem 57), Beattie.
Subs Not Used: Oakley, Moss, Ormerod.
Ref: J Winter (Cleveland).
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