Liverpool’s final Premier League game before the ‘winter break’ ended in a thumping 4-0 win over Southampton, though the victory wasn’t earned without struggles.
Liverpool 4-0 Southampton
Premier League, Anfield
1 February 2020
Goals: Oxlade-Chamberlain 47′, Henderson 60′, Salah 71′, 89′
Might that first half have been Liverpool’s poorest of the season at Anfield? Quite possibly.
It was largely uncoordinated in possession, awkward defensively and uninspiring going forward—the sort of thing the rabble down the East Lancs have become accustomed to watching this season, rather than those who frequent L4.
While it’s not a problem in the attacking sense when that type of incohesive display is on show, at the back it’s a different matter – a team can be out the game before it wakes up properly and begins to play.
Liverpool have been impeccable of late defensively – this eventual shutout making it nine cleansheets in 10 league games – which makes the first 45 minutes against Southampton all the more unusual: the line of four all over the place, poor passes in our own third, a lack of tracking runners and even the unflappable Virgil van Dijk lost in his own traditional area of influence.
Credit should also go to Southampton, who more than matched Liverpool in the opening 45 minutes.
Firmino’s backpass almost gifted one goal, Gomez and Virgil getting in each other’s way could have done the same another occasion. Thankfully, though…
Liverpool have the Premier League‘s best goalkeeper, and probably in world football.
Our No. 1 was as perfectly in position on every occasion as the duo ahead of him usually are in defence, smothering a few through passes, taking high balls and making a couple of saves, too.
Alisson Becker exudes calmness, authority and unquestionable ability, and while Van Dijk has iconic “I love clean sheets” video on his credit roll, it’s also Alisson who ensures we get them as often as we do.
Liverpool needed his brilliance in the first 45 minutes and he was there to answer the call, before we stepped up all over the park after the break.
Ox in the box
After several games where he played central midfield and was alternately impressive in his work rate to help win back possession, and a little quiet and lacking end product on the ball, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain moved back into attack against Saints.
Filling the Mane void ahead of Divock Origi, Ox was a bright spark in the aforementioned scrappy first 45, occasionally looking capable of breaking the Southampton backline with his pace and clever movement.
After the break, though, he took centre stage: a very good solo goal just after the restart, several bursts down the channel to offer an out-ball and one powerful dribble down the right to lead a counter-attack, take on two players and win his team a foul.
It’s seven goals for the season now for Ox—in 17 starts, a quite formidable strike rate considering he has played precisely one entire 90-minute match
He left the pitch after the third goal went in, subbed as he has been in each of the last four, but he should much more positive about this display and his starting chances after the break, when all his positional rivals are fit.
The Bobby and Mo Show
Our other two forward members on the day, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, absolutely ruled the game in the second half, with the latter providing three of the four assists.
The Egyptian and Brazilian combined impressively, worked hard and made great use of spaces, but also had a superb eye for the pass to each other to create countless chances for the Reds.
Firmino still didn’t manage to find the net at Anfield, but Mo is comfortably bearing that burden: with this brace he now has 15 in his last 15 league games at Anfield and 44 in 50 overall at our ground.
He’s also back up there among the league’s top scorers once again after a recent purple patch in front of goal.
On the day, Salah tallied four shots taken and three chances created; Firmino mirror-imaged that with three shots and four chances created, resulting in a hat-trick of assists.
Leaving their technical brilliance behind for a moment, it was a lovely moment after full-time to see the duo in embrace and conversation with ex-Red Danny Ings, who enjoyed a good reception from the crowd.
Baby cups and resting time
That’s it as far as the senior side goes: two weeks off now until we are back into action against Norwich and Atletico Madrid.
Perhaps, on the evidence of the first half, the rest comes at a good time: we don’t want to let up on the relentlessness of the title surge, and also want to take this form back into Europe.
A mental rest, as well as a physical one, should do several players the world of good, but there’s still one more match for the club as a whole: the FA Cup fourth-round replay against Shrewsbury.
Klopp has obviously taken the decision, but there’s still a feeling which can’t be shaken that a few senior players would rather hang around for an extra couple of days, play the game then have a four-day break instead of a full week off.
Lovren, Matip, Lallana, Adrian, Minamino, Keita, Jones, Origi, Shaqiri, Milner… few of these have had significant minutes over December and January and could all do with action, if fit.
Even so, we’ll hope the talented teens at the club can do the job at Anfield – then the focus switches to the run-in, when the big prizes will appear much bigger in our eyes.