Mohamed Salah ends mini goal drought as Liverpool cruise to club record against Southampton
By Chris Bascombe
Depending on how seriously you take the Community Shield, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have become history makers.
No Anfield side has ever won seven consecutive fixtures at the start of a season – presuming it is accepted English football’s curtain-raiser constitutes a competitive game. A stewards enquiry may be needed to deny Kenny Dalglish’s 1990 team the same honour and more given they won ten on the run after a Wembley draw that year.
Nevertheless, a stroll against Southampton indisputably secured a club record in the Premier League era, and the comfort in which Mark Hughes’ submissive visitors were brushed aside suggested they are well equipped to extend the run.
“I lost seven games in a row once. That felt different. It is a surprise, you do not expect it, but we showed enough to win the games,” said Klopp.
Naturally, the German coach is more interested in the tangible rewards at the end of the season.
This was another of those peculiarly reassuring performances when progress could be measured in the gulf in class without Liverpool needing to keep their foot on the pedal. The second half, especially, was an exercise in winning with minimal application. It was the ideal follow-up to the emotional and physical demands in defeating Paris St-Germain in midweek.
To suggest Liverpool did not play particularly well is an exaggeration.
There was a different mastery at work here. As teams like Chelsea have shown over the last two decades, it requires supreme quality to win any Premier League game with such poise and control without feeling the need to sprinkle stardust every five minutes.
It just needs a little adjustment to appreciate a new flavour to some of these Liverpool victories, as if Klopp is having more success orchestrating changes in tempo from the touchline.
This was not so-much the “heavy metal” football of the last few years as a medley of easy listening classics.
Wesley Hoedt’s own goal, Joel Matip and Mohamed Salah had the points won by half-time and there was barely an attack at either end afterwards.
Southampton managed one through Charlie Austin in injury-time, but only the early departure of Virgil van Dijk – a precaution because of a rib injury and considered “not too serious” – caused the hosts genuine concern.
Also reassuring was Salah’s improvement, which constituted more than his goal. It speaks volumes that a three game wait constituted a “drought”.
For 45 minutes he looked anxious, first denied a tap-in by a brilliant Cedric Soares tackle, and then seeing a clever back-heel drift wide.
As is so often the case for the most prolific, his confidence was assisted by a tap-in and he improved as the game aged. He will thank Xherdan Shaqiri for the spectacular 25-yard free-kick that made it possible, bouncing off the underside of the crossbar, enabling Salah to pounce for his third of the season just before the interval.
Sadly, it was the Swiss playmaker’s last contribution, an encouraging first start cut short for tactical reasons after 45 minutes of party-pieces.
Liverpool’s experimental 4-2-3-1 formation was abandoned as Southampton had too much space in midfield – not that they did anything with it.
“I said to Shaq that I have never taken a player off at half-time after such an influential half but we wanted more control,” said Klopp.
“It was not easy. It is my job to sometimes deliver news they do not want to hear. He is a fantastic boy so he understood.”
Klopp said the biggest issue with the change of strategy was having too little time to prepare it as Storm Ali disrupted training, but the initial formation meant his pre-match appreciation of a more ugly, defensively resolute Liverpool had more than a hint of bluff.
With the inclusion of Shaqiri ahead of James Milner alongside the usual front three, Southampton could be forgiven for feeling like General Custer’s regiment surrounded by the Cheyenne. From the early moments it was evident they would struggle to resist, especially as a team built to defend had a fatal flaw. Awful defending.
The first two goals came from corners, the visitors sleeping as Shaqiri seized on Sadio Mane’s clever pass on ten minutes. The Swiss winger’s cross was deflected by the unlucky Hoedt.
Worse followed on 21 minutes, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner finding Matip to powerfully head into the top corner. Given the one-touch delights between Salah and Roberto Firmino, there was an irony that set-pieces were the Saints’ undoing.
They were punished again by Salah’s alertness and although van Dijk’s early departure delighted his ex-fans who have not forgiven him for leaving, Southampton never looked like taking advantage.
“We are not the first or the last who will be unable to cope but we made it too easy. The second half was damage limitation,” said Hughes.
Chelsea and Manchester City will obviously pose a greater threat to Liverpool’s flawless start. Mind you, the same was said of Tottenham Hotspur and PSG.
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