A Mohamed Salah brace and a goal each from Alex Oxlade Chamberlain & Jordan Henderson saw Liverpool beat a very game Southampton 4-0, and open a 22 point lead at the summit of the Premier League.
Going in 0-0 at the interval against Ralph Hasenhüttl’s well drilled and high pressing visitors, an imperious second half showing — furnished with four goals and many more chances — saw the Reds claim a deserved three points.
A subdued opening 20 minutes — with the swirling wind making enterprising football difficult — had its first close call when Mohamed Salah‘s shot was deflected narrowly wide of Alex McCarthy’s goal.
The Saints commitment to pressing made any attempt to play between the lines difficult and the usually accurate long passing of the Reds back four was rendered less effective by the wind.
The best move Liverpool mustered in the opening 25 minutes saw Georginio Wijnaldum — after being fed by Fabinho — shoot softly into the palms of McCarthy.
Southampton had a shot of their own, too, but Alisson turned Moussa Djenepo’s drive behind for a corner. A flaccid game which was still waiting for ignition.
As is commonplace in the Premier League this season, VAR controversy ensued.
McCarthy denied Virgil van Dijk with a strong save from a corner, but, from the next phase, Shane Long clearly fouled Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian was waiting near the goal line and would have surely nodded in Henderson’s cross if it wasn’t for Long’s foul.
Inexplicably, after consulting VAR, Kevin Friend and co waved away the penalty appeal and the drab contest continued unchanged.
Given the flow of the game — or lack of — it was going to take an individual error, rather than a moment of quality — to open the scoring.
Firmino’s hashed pass sent Danny Ings through on goal, but the Englishman, against his former club, was thwarted by Alisson who, minutes later, also denied Long and Pierre Emile Hojbjerg.
So often the proponents of pressing, the Reds couldn’t live with Southampton’s orchestrated squeeze, even if it wasn’t evidenced on the scoreboard.
The half time whistle sounded with the European champions glad of the respite of the dressing room and Southampton ruing not taking their chances.
If the Reds’ first half was typified by staid possession and sluggishness, then the second began in the polar opposite manner.
Good work by Robertson down the left found Firmino in the left hand channel and the Brazilian fed Oxlade Chamberlain. Running infield and manufacturing a better shooting angle, the former Saint’s driven, low shot arrowed into the bottom left corner to spark relieved celebrations at Anfield.
Firmino’s influence extended to another assist as Liverpool doubled their lead. A long Trent Alexander Arnold clearance found the Brazilian, who was marginally offside. Delaying the pass until the opportune moment, Firmino found the onrushing Henderson and the captain sold a dummy before lashing past McCarthy.
With the weight off their shoulders, Liverpool opened up and added a third. Henderson’s arching ball around the corner filleted the Southampton defence and found the run of Salah. The Egyptian waited for McCarthy to commit himself before deftly lifting the ball over the Englishman for the Reds third goal of the afternoon.
More chances came the home sides way, with Takumi Minamino blazing a good chance over after brilliant work from Salah.
Another piece of Salah magic saw the hosts notch a fourth, with a move started by a strong Fabinho tackle and was laid on by Firmino’s third assist of the afternoon.
The final whistle blew with Liverpool another game closer to claiming their holy grail.
Liverpool team: Alisson; Alexander Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Oxlade Chamberlain.
Substitutes: Lallana for Henderson, Minamino for Oxlade Chamberlain, Keita for Wijnaldum.
Subs not used: Adrian, Matip, Origi, Lovren.