Having booked a maximum of 15 points out of five opening Premier League games this season, not to mention squeezing in a Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain after that, Liverpool welcomed Southampton in their bid to achieve their best ever league start.
As expected, Jurgen Klopp rotated his team somewhat due to a jam-packed schedule of high profile games. It was PSG on Tuesday, and it’s going to be Chelsea in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday evening.
With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana still unavailable through injury, the manager chose this line-up:
Mark Hughes in the Saints dugout couldn’t count on Liverpool loanee Danny Ings, with the striker ineligible to play against his parent club. This was the starting XI that he sent out:
The First Half
Liverpool’s formation seemed more like a kind of 4-2-3-1 than the usual 4-3-3, with Wijnaldum sitting depper alongside Henderson and Shaqiri playing further up, just behind the front three with a large amount of roaming freedom.
As expected, the Reds took the initiative straight away. The first chance came in the 4th minute when Shaqiri found Firmino with a good cross but the Brazilian could catch the header properly.
Southampton didn’t seem to mind the home team’s control of the ball too much. They were satisfied to drop back and defend, acknowledging in that way the difference in quality between the teams coupled with the impact Anfield has been known to have on Liverpool players.
The Saints did threaten after seven minutes when Targett broke down the left and sent in a dangerous ball towards the six-yard box for Long, but van Dijk dealt with it well. Then the Reds broke through as Matip engaged Mane and continued his run forward before the Senegalese lobbed a cross for Salah, but Hoedt cleared it out for a corner.
Shaqiri took it and gave it short to Mane, and Mane gave it back to Shaqiri with a nice pass between two defenders. The Swiss then cut inside to avoid Cedric and took a shot. The ball scraped Long, bounced of Hoedt and crossed the goal-line before McCarthy could push it out.
After van Dijk thwarted Long once more, Matip’s fantastic long pass for Salah was well read and collected by McCarthy. Then Liverpool took the tempo down for a minute or two, aiming to lull the Saints defence into a false sense of security and waiting for a chance to pounce.
As for Southampton’s attacks, they went either by the way of long passes aimed at Long to chase, or going wide where the fullbacks, both Cedric and Bertrand, would push high up the pitch. They had a good moment for a counterattack after 19 minutes but the Reds routinely cut it out. Sometimes they would get near the box; but most of the time getting to the halfway line was their limit.
At the other end, Salah played a neat one-two and got past everyone, and just as he was about to put it away, Cedric caught up with him and produced an excellent tackle. A corner was given and taken by Shaqiri. Matip was the tallest one in the air and hit the back of the net with a good header.
Liverpool were now in complete control, and the Saints had a further worry with Long needing medical assistance after a slight tussle with Matip.
However, the visitors had a nice chance as Redmond whipped in a threatening cross from the right to the far post which left Alisson looking a bit indecisive, but Trent was there to sort it out. On the half-hour mark, Firmino, Shaqiri and Salah played a fantastic combination on the edge of the box followed by an off-target shot from range by Wijnaldum.
After that Southampton had the ball high up the pitch for a few minutes, but they only contrived to help Liverpool play some good counterattacking football. Romeu earned a yellow card from referee Paul Tierney for stopping Shaqiri from launching such a move with a late tackle.
As the break approached, the game seemingly entered a slower period with Southampton looking like they were running low on fuel and Liverpool content. But a chance apiece that happened within 60 seconds of each other served as a reminder that everything can change in football in a blink of an eye.
First Bertrand broke through down the left and delivered a fabulous cross for Hojbjerg, but the Saints midfielder missed the ball completely. Then a long pass from Matip enabled Salah to get behind Vestergaard, but McCarthy did just enough to put his brilliant attempt off. And at the stroke of 47 minutes (the last two of which were injury time), a foul on Salah gave Liverpool a chance from around 25 yards, in a position favorable for a left-footed player.
Shaqiri took it fabulously, hitting the underside of the crossbar and beating McCarthy; the ball bounced out and Salah was the quickest to react and put it in the net.
It was the perfect way for the Reds to end the half.
The hosts go into the break well in control at Anfield. pic.twitter.com/yNAPtiN2op
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) September 22, 2018
The Second Half
In what looked like a tactical halftime decision, Klopp sent out James Milner onto the pitch instead of Shaqiri, who had an excellent 45 minutes.
Liverpool continued controlling the game after the break. They were now in no hurry having secured a comfortable lead, while the Saints tried to figure out if they were able to get anything positive for themselves out of this game. But as they relaxed somewhat, the Reds’ front three caused several moments of danger for them within five minutes.
In the 53rd minute, van Dijk went down complaining about something in his ribs and Klopp decided not to take any chances. The Dutch centre-back left the pitch to loud boos from Southampton fans before they were silenced by an applause from the Anfield faithful. Joe Gomez came on and played just as brilliantly as van Dijk.
At the same time, Hughes sent in Stuart Armstrong and Jan Bednarek for Romeu and Targett, and they switched to a back-three system.
Nothing really changed on the pitch in terms of the game development. The Saints tried to push forward but their attacks were lethargic to put it mildly, and Liverpool always looked the more dangerous team.
With 20 minutes to go, Wijnaldum made way for Naby Keita as Klopp made his last substitution of the game rather early.
The heat of the match seemed to have disappeared completely as both teams looked content with the scoreline. There was still some fighting spirit on display from both sets of players, but it was mostly contained to the middle of the park as the Saints apparently opted to try and limit the damage to that already suffered, while Liverpool looked really happy with the three points never coming into doubt.
After 77 minutes, Hughes pulled the tired-looking Long out and gave the rest of the game to Charlie Austin. Apart the former QPR striker winning a few aerial duels in harmless positions, the change brought nothing new to the Saints and their efforts.
There was a potentially exciting moment in the 85th minute, however. A Salah cross was cleared by Austin before the ball fell for Robertson to hit a nice volley, but the left back smacked it from around 15 yards slightly over the bar. Three minutes later there was a scramble inside the Saints box and Milner’s effort that looked inevitably goal-bound got blocked, before Salah put it in the net again. The goal was disallowed, however, as the Egyptian had been ruled offside. A minute later Austin had a chance at the other end but a fantastically positioned Alisson made his only save of the game.
The referee allowed only two minutes of stoppage time and they quickly ran out.
Seven straight wins to start the season sets a new club record. 🙌https://t.co/wZI6kQfmkW
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) September 22, 2018
It was a routine victory for Klopp and his men, and it’s very pleasing to say so. The matter was settled in the first half and it was all about keeping things under control from that point on.
The quest for the best Premier League start ever has been achieved, and now it’s all about keeping momentum. It won’t be easy though, as a double feature against the only other team that has achieved a perfect start looms up next – Chelsea, first on Wednesday at Anfield in the Carabao Cup and then in the league at Stamford Bridge next Saturday. And then – there can be only one.
We Walk On.