Despite being some way off their scintillating best, Liverpool were able to stroll past Southampton without any significant problems. Nobody epitomised the cool control more than Virgil Van Dijk, who put in a supremely composed performance against his former club to help secure the clean sheet. At the other end, Firmino and Salah combined twice in the first half to get the goals. More should probably have been added, but ultimately the lead never looked in any real danger.
Southampton have become something of a thorn in Liverpool’s side in recent times, shutting them out four times in the previous five meetings prior to this encounter. There was consequently a sense of relief when Firmino fired Klopp’s side in front inside ten minutes. The hosts did not seem ready for such a high-intensity start, and Salah’s aggressive pressing forced a turnover; the mercurial Egyptian then squared the ball cleverly for his teammate, who fired past McCarthy. Home fans could have been forgiven for fearing the worst at this point; Liverpool’s potent front three have routed opponents on more than one occasion this season. However, credit has to go to Pellegrino’s men – the goal seemed to settle them down rather than unnerve them, and they began to exert surprising amounts of control on proceedings. The threat to the Liverpool defence remained fairly negligible, save for a couple of dangerous deliveries from James Ward-Prowse, but the ease with which Southampton were stroking the ball about was certainly not typical of a team in the relegation zone. Indeed, they comprehensively won the midfield battle: Milner, Can and Oxlade-Chamberlain offered very little, a worrying trend in recent games, and Southampton ended the game with more possession.
Liverpool were chasing shadows for large periods, and were eager for the referee to blow for the half-time whistle so as to regroup. However, it was they who struck before the break – in stark juxtaposition to a fairly underwhelming half, the second goal was sheer quality. Matip strode forward from the back and struck a pass into the feet of Salah, who moved it on to Firmino before carrying on his run. The Brazilian then produced an inspired backheel flick around his marker and back into the path of Salah, who slotted the ball past the keeper for an astounding 22nd league goal of the campaign. Harsh on Southampton, perhaps, but a thing of beauty: when they link up like that, Liverpool’s attackers are amongst the best in world football.
Unusually for Liverpool, the two-goal lead seemed secure from this point onwards. Part of this was down to the lacklustre response of Pellegrino’s side – if the first goal invigorated them, the second deflated them. The relegation-threatened team seemed, understandably, to be lacking in belief. The loss of Mario Lemina early in the second half also hit them hard; the former Juventus man had been influential in the first period. However, it would be unfair to put the absence of threat to Karius’ goal entirely down to a poor second half showing from Southampton; the visitors’ defence also looked highly assured, marshalled by January signing Virgil Van Dijk. The Dutch colossus was supremely unconcerned by his frosty reception – in the face of the boos he got on with his defensive duties, smirking as he did so. This kind of elite mentality has been lacking from Liverpool since Gerrard and Suarez left in 2014; many of the personnel to pass through the doors since then have been highly talented, but lacking in the kind of arrogant swagger that makes a winner. It is clear that Van Dijk is going to be quite the asset for the club: his presence in the back line is at least part of the solution to what has been a pressing problem. There is a genuine sense that this is now a team which is not too far from greatness.
For now, the focus is firmly on securing a second consecutive finish in the top four. This was another step in that direction; Liverpool have the fewest games left to play against the current top six, and must be considered favourites to hold onto a Champions League place while their rivals take points off each other. United’s slip-up to Newcastle earlier in the day served to further this cause, but also to reinforce the importance of remaining focused – particularly given the amount on the line for the myriad of teams embroiled in a mass relegation scrap, every match is a potential banana skin. No doubt Klopp will be doing all in his power to ensure that his players stick to the task; the next league challenge is up against West Ham, who have enjoyed a decent spell since David Moyes took charge. Before this, though, is the minor matter of Liverpool’s first Champions League knockout match since 2009. The trip to Porto has been highly anticipated by fans – the draw could certainly have been tougher, but again it would be folly to underestimate the opposition. Motivation should certainly not be an issue: the prospect of a place in the last eight for the winner of the tie is a highly tantalising one. One thing is for sure: the likes of Firmino and Salah have proved that they have the requisite quality to win any game.
Latest posts by James Martin (see all)
- Southampton 0-2 Liverpool: Post-Match Analysis - February 12, 2018
- Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City: Post-Match Analysis - January 15, 2018
- Coutinho’s legacy at Liverpool (Opinion 1): Thank you Phil - January 4, 2018