Liverpool produced a second-half masterclass at Anfield to bury a spirited Southampton side on Saturday afternoon. Four goals without reply after the break sealed a convincing victory and further cemented the Reds’ Premier League title credentials.
Ralph Hassenhüttl’s Saints travelled to the north west with intent to be intense, and were perhaps unlucky not to go into the break with a lead after a flurry of chances in the dying embers of the first half.
But once Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain broke the deadlock less than two minutes into the second period, more goals from the home side seemed inevitable. Jordan Henderson and Mohamed Salah got on the scoresheet to secure a remarkable 24th victory of the season, despite having only played 25 games.
This fixture also marked Danny Ings’ return to Anfield, after his move to the south coast. The standing ovation he received from all four corners of the stadium when substituted on 68 minutes highlighted the tremendous regard in which he is still held by Liverpool fans, despite his terrible luck with injuries during his time with the Reds.
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The opening stages offered little by way of entertainment, with the most interesting and amusing thing coming in the form of a chant from the away fans — “Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, you’ll never win that,” sang the Saints support housed in the Anfield Road End.
The first piece of real goal-mouth action came on 25 minutes, after good work from Fabinho crafted a chance for Georginio Wijnaldum, but his rather tame effort was held comfortably by Alex McCarthy. Minutes later, Moussa Djenepo’s superbly-struck shot at the other end forced a decent stop from the alert Alisson.
The home crowd howled for a penalty on the half-hour mark after Shane Long seemed to bring down Roberto Firmino on the goal line, but on-pitch referee Kevin Friend wasn’t convinced and no spot-kick was awarded, even after the customary VAR review.
The returning Danny Ings had a great chance to score against his former employers five minutes before the break after Firmino’s error, but his effort was blocked. Moments after, Shane Long had an effort following Joe Gomez’s weak defensive header, but it was held by Alisson.
Liverpool’s sloppiness continued in the following minutes, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the latest to be guilty of giving the ball away cheaply. He was robbed by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, but the Dane’s effort was tame.
He would atone for that less than two minutes into the second period, though, as he cut inside from the left to fire beyond the statuesque McCarthy from just outside the area. Andy Robertson deserves tremendous credit for keeping the ball in play in the build-up when it seemed destined to trickle out for a goal-kick.
Mohamed Salah had the ball in the back of the net again less than 10 minutes later after a superb passing move which started off with the goalkeeper Alisson, but he was denied by the offside flag.
But the Reds would not be denied their second. A trademark cross-field ball from Trent Alexander-Arnold found Firmino on the left, who unselfishly squared the ball for Henderson. The England international, in plenty of space 12 yards out, took one touch to set himself and another to fire high into the net and give his side some breathing space.
There was still plenty to be worried about, though. Højbjerg burst into the box on 63 minutes and looked free to get a shot away, but a superb recovering block from Gomez saw the Saints skipper’s effort deflected wide.
For all of Southampton’s endeavour — they really did give a good account of themselves at Anfield — Liverpool just had too much quality, and the third goal typified precisely that. Henderson swept the ball in from the right during a rapid counter-attack, which was picked up on by the calm and composed Mohamed Salah who lifted the ball over the onrushing McCarthy to net his 17th of the season.
Firmino should have made it four but McCarthy’s sprawling save denied him, before compatriot Fabinho fired into the Kop from 25 yards after being urged to shoot by an Anfield crowd in good voice.
Salah played a major role in what should have been his side’s fourth with five minutes to go — his driving run down the right invited the Southampton defence to rush to stop him. He timed his squared pass perfectly where a trio of red shirts were waiting to sweep home, but substitutes Naby Keïta and Takumi Minamino conspired to get in each other’s way and the chance was wasted.
But that fourth did come, as Salah combined with Firmino to exploit more gaps in the visitors’ defence and the Egyptian eventually bundled home his second of the afternoon.
The first team now have a well-deserved two-week break before their next outing, a Premier League trip to strugglers Norwich City. The FA Cup Fourth Round Replay against Shrewsbury Town looms on Tuesday, but Jürgen Klopp has, of course, already said that no senior players will be involved.