Liverpool 3-1 Southampton – The Final Written Word
By: Collin Hockenbury.
No Jurgen Klopp on the touchline. No Ralph Hasenhuttl either for that matter.
No wins in our last three against teams in the relegation zone.
No more Premier League until Boxing Day.
No beard on Alisson Becker’s face.
Some unusual circumstances were at play as Liverpool lined up against bottom-three Southampton. But to stay within touching distance of the top four and go into the World Cup break on a high, the goal for the Reds was simple: beat a team you’re supposed to beat.
At Anfield on Saturday, they did just that. Here are the main takeaways from the 3-1 win.
A fast start for both sides.
On the 6’ mark, Firmino latched onto Robertson’s in-swinging free kick, blindly back-flicking the ball over a sea of players and into the far corner from about 15 yards away. It was vintage “no look” Bobby, who knew exactly where to put the ball on pure instinct, giving us an early lead.
But before the smiles had faded from the faces of Liverpool fans, set piece specialist James Ward-Prowse delivered a pinpoint ball of his own on 9’. We tried and failed to draw their runners offside with a shallow defensive line, allowing Che Adams to burst free and powerfully head home the tying goal.
From then until halftime, the Saints defenders were subjected to hell by our front three. Namely Darwin Nunez.
Darwin is officially one of the first names on the team sheet.
It’s hard to say how the return of Diaz and Jota, plus the World Cup itself, will affect Darwin’s game time when the season resumes. As of this moment, he’s un-droppable. When he came to the club, he was reputed to be true number 9. He clearly had the attributes—the size, the power, the positioning. But after watching him for a few months, we can all see he’s not just deadly between the posts. He’s equally effective on the left wing or as a runner from deep.
Shortly after it went to 1-1, Darwin held a run to stay even with the Southampton back four and then charged onto Robertson’s ball down the left sideline. Just before the covering defender could make the block, Darwin sent in a perfect left-footed cross along the floor. It reached Salah, who was denied by an impressive close-range save from Bazunu, the Southampton keeper.
Next, he swept the ball into Elliott in the centre of the field and sprinted from our own half into the box, where Salah found him with a short pass around the corner. As he was ushered away from the goal, he set Firmino up with an inventive backheel. Again, Bazunu did well to rush out and make the save.
Finally, the breakthrough came. After a few failed attempts in and around the Southampton box, the ball found its way to Elliott just outside the 18. With time to look up, he spotted Darwin waiting on the centre back’s shoulder, then floated a delicate ball over his head and into Darwin’s path. The Uruguayan took it out of the air first time, steering it with the inside of his weaker foot into the side netting. This time, there was nothing Bazunu could do.
20 minutes later, just before halftime, we scored a quintessential Liverpool goal—undoubtedly leaving Klopp fist-pumping in the stands. Firmino dropped deep, turned and slid in Robertson, who was in an advanced position. His one-touch cross put 3-1 on a plate for the onrushing Nunez, who took no chances, sliding in to convert with a powerful, Haaland-esque finish.
I hesitate to use the term masterclass, but the variation in his forward play was stunning. His threat is multifaceted, his movement is intelligent and his overall play is unpredictable. It’s a nightmare to plan for and even worse to defend.
Again, the second half was less convincing.
The drop-off was nowhere near as stark as it was at Tottenham, but the second 45 left a little room for concern. Again, we had a two-goal lead to defend, so we happily conceded a little possession to stay compact. Southampton showed much more attacking endeavour in the second half under instruction from the new manager, Nathan Jones. But the ease with which they found themselves on goal could have and should have led to a nervy finish to the game.
We seem to lose 10% of our solidity without the presence of Konate, who has a knack for intercepting a final ball and often pressures opponents into submission if they ever receive it in dangerous areas. After the break, it’s crucial for him to stay healthy and part of a fixed back four, so we can build and maintain the necessary degree of consistency in defence.
Alisson turned in one of his all-time greatest performances for Liverpool.
Had we executed our second-half game plan perfectly, draining the life out of the game to cruise to the 3-1 result, the difference maker would have been the play of our front three. But the reason we kept the scoreline intact is Alisson Becker, who followed Kelleher’s MOTM performance against Derby with one of his own.
First, he was quick off his line to block Elyounoussi, who found room for a shot after he got on the end of a nicely weighted through-ball. Next, Edozie and Adams combined for a one-two around Joe Gomez. Again, Alisson timed the jump off his line to perfection, closing the ball down as soon as it was past Gomez and bobbling into Edozie’s path. He spread himself and made the save with his feet this time.
But if the first two saves were great, the third was borderline ridiculous. Gomez and Van Dijk were well positioned when Ainsley Maitland-Niles stepped onto the ball from the right flank, but the quality of his cross caught them out. Che Adams smartly adjusted his body shape and sent a low, glancing header far post from no further than seven yards away. Alisson somehow reacted in time, stepping across and down to not only make the save but also direct the ball away from danger so we could clear it.
The Brazilian looked like a different man without his beard, but I think we can all get used to it if he keeps pulling out saves like that. Maybe it makes him more aerodynamic. It’s the only logical explanation.
All told, a good old-fashioned two-goal win at home against an overmatched opponent just felt right. Let’s pick up right back here in six weeks, Reds.