A scintillating second half display from Premier League leaders Liverpool saw them score four goals to record a 4-0 victory over Southampton, and move 22 points clear.
Southampton came to Anfield on the back of a good run of form, with Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl demanding his team to ‘show how far we have come, how competitive we are‘, against a remarkable Liverpool team who are yet to be beaten in the league this season.
With both sides high on confidence, an end-to-end first half was perhaps inevitable. The Saints certainly showed how ‘competitive’ they are: their high pressing resulted in sloppy passes and mistakes from Liverpool’s defence, whilst looking reassured defensively by limiting Liverpool to long shots and hopeful crosses early on. With a total of ten attempts on goal in the first half – the most Liverpool have faced in a half in the league since Chelsea in December 2014 – the Saints were unlucky not to be in front. They almost took the lead when Roberto Firmino’s wayward pass was intercepted by the dangerous Danny Ings, who jinked past Joe Gomez and fired it goalbound, before inadvertently clipping the heels of teammate Shane Long and bouncing away from goal. Ings looked a constant menace against his former club, having scored 14 goals in 19 starts. If Ings continues this excellent goalscoring form, then a top-half finish for the Saints is surely feasible.
Liverpool had chances of their own, the most clear-cut came on the half hour mark. Mohammed Salah’s exquisite through ball found a marauding Virgil van Dijk, but his audacious back-heel was blocked by goalkeeper Alex McCarthy. Jordan Henderson then sent a looping cross into the heart of the box, but the ball evaded Roberto Firmino amid a tussle with Shane Long. A VAR check deemed the Irish striker’s contact as insufficient to award a penalty.
Liverpool came flying out of the blocks in the second half, and broke the deadlock a mere two minutes after the restart. As Ings drove into the box, he was stopped by a challenge from Fabinho. A VAR review turned down the Saints’ appeals for a penalty, deeming Ings’s effort to evade Fabinho the cause of him falling to the ground. Following this, after fine interplay between Andy Robertson and Firmino, Oxlade-Chamberlain fired a low shot past McCarthy into the bottom-left corner to give Liverpool the lead. Firmino then teed up Salah who slipped the ball home after a slick passing move, but VAR correctly ruled it out for offside.
One soon became two when Firmino’s cutback found Henderson on the edge of the box, who coolly struck the ball into the roof of the net. Henderson then turned to provider: Alisson’s long-range pass found the Liverpool captain, who set up Salah for a confident chip past McCarthy for a third. Salah’s second goal put the icing on the cake in added time when Firmino – again the provider with his third assist – squared unselfishly to the Egyptian, who poked the ball in via a deflection off McCarthy, despite the best efforts of defender Jan Bednarek.
The score line was a little harsh on the Saints, who matched Liverpool’s intensity for much of the first hour and were unlucky not to go in front. The defeat is Southampton’s first in five games; as a result they fall back to 11th place.
Ralph Hasenhuttl gave his post-match thoughts to BBC:
Maybe the result is a little high but I would like to watch this game if we had gone a goal up. The best team in the world, for 50 minutes had no real chances and we had a massive one.
It must be brave at that moment to say goal, so it’s no penalty here at Anfield. The way we played was unbelievably good and I am proud and stand by our plan. It is a clear penalty but in such moments the game can turn in our direction. But in the end it was a deserved win for Liverpool. We played the best we can so I am very proud.
Next up for Southampton is a trip to North London on Wednesday to face Tottenham for their FA Cup replay, before hosting Burnley in the Premier League on 15 February in the lunchtime game.