Liverpool easily dispatched of lowly Southampton to claim all three points in the south coast, as goals from Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah helped Jürgen Klopp to his 50th Premier League win.
Virgil van Dijk enjoyed his first clean sheet with the Reds, amid a chorus of unwelcoming boos.
Southampton XI: McCarthy; Bertrand, Hoedt, Stephens, Cédric; Romeu, Lemina; Tadić, Højbjerg, Ward-Prowse; Carillo.
Liverpool XI: Karius; Robertson, Van Dijk, Matip, Alexander-Arnold; Emre Can, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Mané, Firmino, Salah.
Liverpool started off in a 4-3-3 shape, and immediately set out to press high in an effort to stifle Southampton. Firmino presses Stephens when the defender receives possession from out wide.
This season, Liverpool have often transitioned their Gegenpress way of thought into one more fixated on cutting off the passing lanes.
Seconds later, Lemina receives the ball in midfield, but finds his passing options shut off. Mané cuts off Højbjerg, while Salah has Bertrand in his cover shadow. Oxlade-Chamberlain prevents the half-space being exploited by plugging the gap.
Lemina awkwardly passes back, but Hoedt cannot control the ball, and Firmino reacts sharpest to the poor touch before being outmuscled.
Unsurprisingly with Southampton sitting in the relegation zone, errors were evident in the match. Karius reacted quick to distribute the ball to Oxlade-Chamberlain and within seconds, Liverpool opened the scoring.
This time, Hoedt’s error proved fatal, as he misjudged Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass, which was seized upon by Salah. Stephens is then forced to close the Egyptian down, leaving a huge space vacated on the left – aided by Cédric being out of position. Mané and Firmino exploit the room and the latter finishes off Salah’s through ball for the opener.
In the controversial draw against Spurs, Liverpool started to wane in the last thirty minutes, as tiredness began to set in. With this and Wednesday night’s Champions League clash against Porto in mind, Liverpool soon dropped to a deeper 4-1-4-1 / 4-5-1 formation to, presumably, conserve energy.
Below, Emre Can is the holding anchor, while Firmino roams up front.
Now in a more defensive shape, Southampton began to take control of the match. The centre-backs pushed up to half-way line and were often harried by Firmino. On this occasion, Hoedt is pressed fast by Firmino and the Dutchman’s rushed pass is intercepted by Alexander-Arnold.
Liverpool frequently formed a flat midfield five and pushed higher than the defence – with wingers dropping deep – to cut off any central play as a result. This meant one of Højbjerg, Lemina, if not both, had to drop deep to collect the ball.
As ever, Firmino was at the forefront of pressing. Both Højbjerg and Lemina are forced to provide support below, but Firmino intelligently cuts off the Dane from both the latter and Hoedt.
With the centre posing stiff resistance, the Saints opted to attack down the wings and free up their central midfielders. Just like Manchester City at Anfield, the aim was to keep Matip /Van Dijk occupied, while pushing the ball-near winger on the touchline, meaning Alexander-Arnold /Robertson would be forced to push out to the touchline and create space.
Below, Matip is pre-occupied with marking a forward and Tadić is pinned to the touchline, so Alexander-Arnold must move out wide. As Southampton pushed their full-backs high, Bertrand could exploit the space created down the wing after a quick one-two, but Liverpool generally dealt with these crosses well.
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Southampton were also able to exploit the Liverpool full-backs tracking their man by having their wingers cut inside and create clear overlapping runs for their own full-backs, but this was less common.
Eventually, Liverpool put the game to bed. Salah dropped in-between the midfield and defence to collect the ball from Matip. The link-up between Salah and Firmino draws the defenders out and the Brazilian removes them from play with a delightful flick for his teammate to double the scoring.
The goal instantly knocked the wind out of Southampton sails and they were unable to mount many further chances in the second half.
Loris Karius had an exquisite game in denying the south coast side a few chances, notably stopping Højbjerg after Robertson misread a lofting cross in behind the defence.
At the other end, Roberto Firmino put in another energetic Man of the Match performance – not only clinical in his goal and skilful with the assist, the number nine was intelligent in his movement, pressing and intercepting the passing lanes.
It was also a cool, calm, composed shift by Virgil van Dijk, who looked as good in oranje as he has with the Dutch national team. The former Groningen man was so integral to the win, home fans eventually turned their boos and disgruntlement to their own team at the final whistle.