There is a commonly used cliché in football — “that was a game of two halves”. After Liverpool matched their greatest scoreline so far this season in beating a very good Southampton side 4-0, it could be said that a “game of three halves” would today be more apt.
The hosts started well. Even if in possession the Reds were not initially at their scintillating best, Southampton could not hold onto the ball for more than three or four seconds at a time, such was the intensity and desire of the Liverpool press.
Ralph Hassenhüttl’s travelling side did, however, begin to grab a foothold in the game, even if they were very fortunate to escape punishment when Roberto Firmino was seemingly manhandled in the box.
Suddenly, Liverpool looked nervous and the Saints were creating regular chances.
Half time came at a good time for Jürgen Klopp’s side. And it was after the break that a new Liverpool side emerged from the tunnel. As so often this season, the Reds adapted, overcame.
They started playing more direct football, to counter and bypass the high Southampton press.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s low strike made it 1-0, before Jordan Henderson arrived on a Firmino cutback to double the lead.
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The Reds’ captain turned creator for the third, feeding a hungry and grateful Mo Salah.
And after many opportunities for a fourth were spurned, Salah wished the ball over the line as the game entered stoppage time- his second of the game.
In that second half against a very impressive Southampton outfit, Liverpool issued a warning. Not so much that this side will win the league — that looks inevitable now — but that if they reach top gear there is no side in Europe who will be able to prevent them from retaining the Champions League, as well.
I cannot remember ever struggling to pick a man of the match as much as I did today. At various points across the game I had had five different players in mind….
Here are your ratings:
Ali 8 — However electrifyingly brilliant the Reds were in the second half, Alisson had played a crucial role to keep the scores level when Southampton grew into the first period.
Trent 6 — Sloppy in possession at times — not that it stopped him from providing my fantasy team with another clean sheet!
JoGo 7.5 — Would have been in the running for the man of the match debate if it weren’t for a poor ten minutes towards the end of the first half.
Big Virg 8.5 — I was thinking at one point in the first half that although Virgil is unlikely to retain his Player of the Season crown, I do not believe there has been a better player in the Premier League this campaign. Superb against his former side.
Robbo 7.5 — The Scot’s best performance in a while. Particularly impressive when bursting onto loose balls.
Hendo 8.5 — If you had told me six months ago that we would get to February and Jordan Henderson would be in the running for a host or individual honours alongside a Premier League trophy… This is a man who seems to embody the Anfield crowd’s passion and desperation to win the league. His freakish stamina allowed him to break into the box to score Liverpool’s second, before an expertly weighted pass found Mo Salah for the third. Sensational.
Fabs 7 — The Brazilian’s best performance since his return from injury. Couple of overly-forced long balls, but a generally good showing.
Gini 7 — This rating is possibly overly harsh on Gini, because he inevitably won back possession countless times, but the game as a whole was so eventful that I’m struggling to recall the more nuanced contributions!
Mo 9 — Battled well through the first half, and always seemed to be the most likely scorer on the pitch. His first real chances only arrived late-on. The Egyptian’s first was brilliantly finished, his second a result of work-rate and desire, and he could have had an assist when Minamino curled wide. In his best form of this season. Man of the match.
Bobby 8.5 — Mouthwatering stuff at times. Literally ridiculous football to lay on Henderson’s strike, and did superbly for the fourth, too. His run of early-Winter bad form appears to be well and truly over.
Ox 8 — Symbolised the different Liverpool sides that we saw today. Exceptional start, significantly dropped off as the first half wore on, and then came alive after the break. Crucial goal was well taken, even if Alex McCarthy’s positioning in the Southampton net was somewhat suspect.
Naby 8 — Brilliant twenty minutes. Exquisite pass almost forced home by Firmino.
Taki 6.5 — Unfortunate not to grab a first Liverpool goal.
La La Land 6.5 — A tidy, if unspectacular cameo.