11 February 2018

Liverpool 2-0 Southampton

Firmino 6'
Salah 42'

Liverpool are incredibly reliant on Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah. And that's okay, and long as they're available and they keep this up. Yes, I realize that "as long as" is doing an awful lot of work in that sentence.

That's not to downplay Liverpool's nine other starters or the substitutes – who ranged mostly from "fine" to van Dijk's "good" and Karius' "encouragingly good", but good lord. Salah's got 29 goals and eight assists in all competitions this season. Firmino's got 20 goals and 11 assists. No Liverpool player's scored 20 in a season since Suarez and Sturridge in 2013-14. They've finally got two this season, and it's only February 11.

Firmino and Salah have scored ten of Liverpool's last 13 goals – all the matches since Coutinho's departure. Four of Salah's eight assists this season have been to Firmino. Five of Firmino's ten assists have been to Salah.

And they did it again today.

Sixth minute. Karius early throw out from goal. Oxlade-Chamberlain run, early pass, through Hoedt. Salah control, Salah cleverly centered pass in traffic. Firmino first-time weaker-foot finish.

42nd minute. A bit of sustained possession, something which didn't happen often in the first half, after an attempted counter broke down. Matip into Salah's feet, back to goal. Turn, then to Firmino, who plays a jaw-dropping back heel, with Salah continuing his run, wide open to easily place his shot around McCarthy.

The first goal was both lucky and good; for all from Firmino and Salah, as well as Karius and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Hoedt could and really should have intercepted Oxlade-Chamberlain's pass forward. The second goal was beyond phenomenal. Southampton had three players between Firmino and Salah, and two more defenders at the top of the penalty box. An immediate back heel was the only way Liverpool were getting through, and it still had to be hit to inch-perfection and Salah still had to make the run exactly into the only open space without pausing. Two world-class attackers whose actions played out exactly as they saw them in their heads, whose interplay has been superlative all season long. And, sometimes, they make it look so, so easy.

But in between, it wasn't that fun of a first half. Other than the goals, it wasn't that fun of a first half.

Southampton, after failing to put a shot on-target in their last three league matches against Liverpool, actually threatened. Often. Lemina and Romeu were all over midfield. Both Bertrand and Soares got forward to help pin back Robertson and Alexander-Arnold. And Liverpool needed Loris Karius to make four first-half saves, including a clear-cut chance from Højbjerg and three headers. Southampton made good use of cross-field switches, Southampton took advantage of Liverpool's short full-backs with crosses.

Southampton are the first non-top six side to out-possess Liverpool in the first half of a league match since April 2016, a 2-1 win at Bournemouth. And that's the only other time it's happened since Klopp became manager.

Liverpool seemed content to play for counter-attacks after taking an early lead. That has, um, not gone especially well sometimes.

But Southampton's lack of scoring has hurt them all season, and it hurt them today. If for better finishing and if not for Loris Karius, this could have been a different, much closer game.

At least in the first half. The second half was an entirely different story.

Liverpool missed an absolute pile of chances in the second half – which always and rightfully makes us nervous – but Southampton's last shot came in the 59th minute, from Hoedt's no-angle set play attempt. That was their only shot of the second half. Their last open play shot came in the 40th minute, not long before Salah's goal. Their last non-headed, open play shot came in the 18th minute – Højbjerg's clear-cut chance.

For all the rightful concerns we have about Liverpool with the lead, for all the possession and threat Southampton carried early in the match, that was absolutely finished as a contest as soon as Mohamed Salah scored Liverpool's second. Southampton tired, Lemina had to go off through illness, and the only reason that this didn't finish 3-0 like the reverse fixture, or 4-0 or 5-0, was that Salah, Mané, Firmino, and Lallana all couldn't convert chances we've seen them convert multiple times, whether put off-target, blocked, or saved by McCarthy.

This, notably, is Liverpool's first 2-0 win of the season. It's Liverpool's first 2-0 win in exactly a year. It's Liverpool first 2-0 win away from home in the league since Klopp became manager; Liverpool have played 95 league matches since.

We'd hoped we'd get similar to the 3-0 at Huddersfield 11 days ago. And despite a few differences – Southampton's first half threat, a failure to get a third goal – we pretty much did. Liverpool scored multiple first-half goals, including the crucial second just before the interval, and then Liverpool willed the opposition into submission.

What was, because of those goals and because of that will, a comfortable away win in the end. Not the toughest competition, but still a situation we'd seen Liverpool disappoint in before. What was, necessarily, another win, by any means necessary – Liverpool's sixth in the last eight league matches. A win which puts Liverpool two points behind second place and two points ahead of fourth, before a crucial Champions League match at Porto on Wednesday.

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