Southampton 0 Liverpool 2: Jurgen Klopp expressed some reservations about his Liverpool side’s display, but it was hard for the manager to disguise his satisfaction.
This most comfortable of victories had been achieved with ease, the ideal preparation for Wednesday’s Champions League visit to FC Porto, and tightened their hold on a top four place.
It also helped the manager’s mood that Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah were on target again, taking their combined tally to 49 goals for the season and providing yet another reminder that Liverpool’s goalscoring threat remains undimmed despite the departure last month of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona.
Klopp was confident enough after the game to set his sights on catching Manchester United, who sit just two points clear of the Reds following their defeat at Newcastle United earlier in the day although, perhaps mindful of the streak of inconsistency that runs through his team, acknowledged they cannot yet take a Champions League spot for granted.
“I didn’t know United had lost before the game, but we know we’re not far away,” said Klopp. “We play against them one more time this season, at least. It’s good. For us, 54 points is important. What the other teams have we have no influence on. We need all the points we get.
“We don’t have normal weekends anymore. We want to finish the season top four and we need the points. I don’t think nine points from Arsenal is enough to have rest but it is nine points. There is a lot to go for and we will try to carry on like today.”
If the result at St James’ Park before kick-off was of significance to Klopp and his players, it rang alarm bells for Southampton who ended the day in the bottom three.
Salah had put Liverpool ahead in the sixth minute and after Firmino added the second three minutes before the break, the home side lost heart and never looked like recovering. With five of their next six fixtures away from home, things could get worse before they get better for Mauricio Pellegrino’s side, particularly as the manager questioned his side’s character.
“You can look at your opponents, but you have to think about yourself,” said Pellegrino. “If you don’t play well, it doesn’t matter what happens outside. We have to be focused on our own mentality and what we did on the pitch: Why did we play one way in the first half, and a different way in the second? But Liverpool didn’t have to do much to win this game easily. One mistake, and one amazing one-two, and they finished the game.”
Early signs of nerves betrayed the increased pressure on Pellegrino’s side and quickly ensured an already testing challenge became more testing after an error by centre-back Wesley Hoedt.
The home side had already lived dangerously but the opening that led to them falling behind in the sixth minute came after they had caused Liverpool some discomfort of their own by forcing a corner. The set-piece came to nothing, however, and when visiting keeper Loris Karius threw the ball quickly out to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Pellegrino’s side were stretched.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, who started his career at St Mary’s stadium, played a long ball towards Salah that should have been cut out by Hoedt. The defender, though, missed his clearance, allowing the Egypt international to advance before squaring the ball to Firmino who finished clinically.
Klopp had included Virgil van Dijk in his starting line-up and warned the centre-back he could expect an uncomfortable afternoon, a reaction to his protracted £75m (€85m) transfer that was finally concluded last month. Initially, the worst Van Dijk had to put up with was a chorus of jeers every time he touched the ball.
However, as Southampton began to assert themselves, the Liverpool back four began to briefly experience a more uncomfortable afternoon.
Had it not been for three good saves from Loris Karius, Klopp’s side might have faced a more significant test but when they upped the tempo the second goal was produced as clinically as the first, with Salah and Firmino swapping roles as the pair exchanged a clever one-two before Salah claimed his 29th goal of an outstanding season.
Southampton visibly wilted and Liverpool should have added to their tally in the second half. That, though, was of little concern to Klopp who was more grateful of the opportunity to make changes and rest legs before the trip to Portugal.
McCarthy 6; Soares 6, Stephens 6, Hoedt 4, Bertrand 5; Romeu 6 (Davis 80), Lemina 7 (Boufal 57, 5) ; Ward-Prowse 6 (Long 71,6), Hojbjerg 7, Tadic 6; Carrillo 5.
Karius 7; Alexander-Arnold 6, Van Dijk 7, Matip 7, Robertson 6; Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Milner 60, 6), Can 6, Wijnaldum 7; Salah 9 (Lovren 89), Firmino 8 (Lallana 79, 6), Mane 6.
M Atkinson 7
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