Jack Hallows brings you all the major talking points from Liverpool’s 3-0 victory over Mark Hughes’ hapless Southampton side.
Well, that was one of the easier, most straightforward victories that Liverpool are going to have this season.
Southampton had been a thorn in Jürgen Klopp’s side during his first 18 months or so in England, with the German failing to beat Ronald Koeman and Claude Puel’s teams during the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons.
The Reds’ made it three wins in a row on Saturday though, to prove that any hoodoo the south coast club had held over Liverpool has well and truly been dispelled.
In truth, it could’ve been a scoreline much more along the lines of five, six or even seven nil had Liverpool not practically stopped playing in the second half but going into the break at 3-0, the Reds’ are forgiven for deciding to just take it easy and protect what they already had.
So, with a huge doubleheader against Sarri’s Chelsea across two competitions coming up this next week, what did we take from this game?
Getting it done early
Liverpool have garnered a reputation under Klopp as being quick starters, blitzing teams in first half assaults as spectacular as they are devastating but this season has seen them fail to really get going early on.
Aside from the 2-1 victory at Leicester, Liverpool have failed to open games up with a bang and while they’ve scored a decent number of goals during the all-important period just before the break, early strikes have been tough to come by.
It was perhaps fitting then, that on the eve of Klopp’s 600th league appearance as a manager, the Reds finally produced a first-half blitz that all but ended the match by the break.
The Reds scored twice in the first 20 minutes and by the time the third goal went in, they could easily have had four or five, with a mixture of last-ditch tackles from Cédric Soares and unlucky finishing from Mohamed Salah allowing Southampton a slightly more flattering scoreline.
The decision to start Xherdan Shaqiri in a deeper role paid dividends, with Southampton’s defence failing to deal with Liverpool’s four-pronged attack.
It was the Swiss international’s run and snapshot that brought about the opener, while it was his sensationally struck free kick that Mo Salah turned in after the ball cannoned off the crossbar just before half time.
The former Bayern Munich man wreaked havoc during the first half and was probably Liverpool’s most influential attacking player before his surprise substitution at half time – a foreshadowing to the upcoming midweek team selection perhaps?
A change in formation
Where Klopp has rigidly favoured the 4-3-3 so far this season, Southampton came up against a 4-2-3-1 on Saturday afternoon.
However, it wasn’t just the shape of the team that would’ve surprised Mark Hughes men.
The Reds lined up with a midfield double pivot of Wijnaldum and Henderson, allowing Shaqiri to play in a free role off of the lone striker. The striker on this occasion, however, was Mohamed Salah rather than Roberto Firmino, who started the match on the left hand side of Liverpool’s attack.
Where was Sadio Mané then? On the right-hand side.
Klopp’s decision to play switcharoo with his attackers meant the Southampton defence was constantly on their toes, while their attackers were faced with the extra defensive work rate of Firmino who, playing on the left, was tasked with helping out Robertson against the combination of Cédric and Redmond.
If Southampton had finally become used to where the Reds attackers were situated, the second half was made all the more complicated for the visitors when Klopp replaced Shaqiri with Milner in an effort to “control the game,” returning to a 4-3-3 and restoring Mané, Firmino and Salah to their usual roles in the fluid front trio.
This subtle tactical fluidity may come in handy this season, with the already unpredictable nature of Liverpool’s attack only going to be aided further by the opposition not knowing where they’re going to pop up on the pitch from game to game.
A slightly forgotten man given the form of Dejan Lovren last season and Joe Gomez in recent weeks, Joel Matip was restored to the starting line up to give Gomez a rest after a non-stop start to this season.
The big Cameroonian made an almost instant impact, rising highest at a corner 20 minutes into the match to put Liverpool 2-0 up with a well-taken headered goal – his first at Anfield!
The fact it was Jannik Vestergaard, the tallest outfield player on the field, that he out-jumped and beat to the ball only made the goal even more impressive.
While the goal was certainly a positive moment and his 112 passes were more than any other Liverpool player on the pitch, there were still signs that where possible, Gomez should absolutely be the nailed on partner for Virgil van Dijk in the long term.
A lazy concession of possession in the first half almost allowed Shane Long in on goal, while the Cameroonian exhibited his famous ‘air swing’ on more than one occasion in the second period.
Against sides like Southampton who aren’t likely to punish you each and every time for the occasional mistake, Matip is a fantastic option and I do expect to see him play quite a bit of football this season but I do hope it’s not frequently at the expense of Joe Gomez.
Goals from here, there and everywhere
While Liverpool scored goal after goal last season, there was still a lot of surprising talk about how they were a little one dimensional.
If you could stop the front three – easier said than done I might add – then you could nullify Liverpool. That was the genuine consensus from certain corners of the footballing world as it was felt that there were not enough goals or creative sparks anywhere else in the team.
This season, however, Liverpool have already had seven different goal-scorers – eight if you include Wesley Hoedt’s own goal on Saturday – and their goals have come in a multitude of different scenarios.
Headers from corners, headers from crosses, tap-ins from low driven balls across the six yard box by the full-backs, penalties, fast breakaways, counter-pressing situations and even forcing opposition players into scoring own goals.
The Reds are doing it all and it’s beautiful to see.
In their front three, they have a forward line capable of scoring in any manner possible while the creativity of their full-back pairing is almost uncanny.
Add to that the depth they have with the likes of Sturridge, Shaqiri and Matip all contributing goals and assists when featuring despite not being regular starters and the Reds look a far more frightening all-round proposition this season.
Pressing and blitzing teams on the counter-attack is still Liverpool’s ‘go-to’ if you like but the Reds are now finding all sorts of ways to put the ball in the back of net, all while seemingly staying in first gear.
Roll on Chelsea
Speaking of squad depth, Liverpool could feasibly play a solid side against Chelsea when they visit Anfield midweek for what promises to be an interesting League Cup fixture.
The likes of Nathaniel Clyne, Alberto Moreno, Fabinho, Naby Keïta, Daniel Sturridge and even Xherdan Shaqiri will all be feeling well rested having either only featured for a small period of Staurday’s game – or not at all – and will expect to feature.
It’s a far cry from when Klopp was forced to field the likes of Jose Enrique, Adam Bogdan, Jerome Sinclair and Brad Smith in an FA Cup game in his first season at the club and showcases just how much depth has been added to this Liverpool squad over the last couple of summers.
Klopp will be hoping that a ‘second string’ side can get the job done in midweek and allow the first-teamers ample rest ahead of the Premier League fixture against the same opposition just days later.
Three from three so far in the Reds’ “nightmare run,” let’s hope they can improve on it even further in the coming weeks.
C’mon you Redmen!