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The question was not whether Liverpool would score yet again but how long Southampton would make a contest of their latest daunting assignment at Anfield. The answer was two minutes.
When Diogo Jota scored at the end of Liverpool’s first meaningful attack Jürgen Klopp’s team took their cue to deliver another procession on home soil and expose the vast gulf between the Premier League elite and those in their slipstream. Jota scored twice, Thiago Alcântara and Virgil van Dijk one apiece, as Liverpool made it 10 goals without reply at Anfield inside a week. In doing so, they became the first top-flight team to score at least twice in 17 consecutive matches since Sunderland in 1927.
Liverpool needed 113 seconds to open the scoring to be precise and signal a long old afternoon for Southampton who, had they planned to stay compact and frustrate, did the exact opposite from the outset.
The visitors’ three-man rearguard of Jan Bednarek, Mohammed Salisu and Lyanco, making his first Premier League start, were a blessing for a rampant Liverpool attack with their stray touches, hesitant challenges and misjudged rushes out of defence.
Ralph Hasenhüttl, the Southampton manager, insisted he was to blame for the comprehensive defeat for switching the team’s defensive shape. A more realistic assessment is that Liverpool are simply on a different level and the visitors were ultimately grateful to contain the rout to four.
“We wanted to surprise them a little bit and we surprised ourselves,” said Hasenhüttl. “That is not a good idea against a team on fire. It was my mistake. I sent them out with a plan that didn’t work. We tried it the way we tried it against Chelsea but it didn’t work. Liverpool are super hungry, super motivated and have an unbelievable flow. I think there is no team that doesn’t have problems to stop them.”
Bednarek was at fault for the breakthrough when misreading Trent Alexander-Arnold’s long ball out of defence and allowing it to bounce over him. Jota raced through and, though Southampton smothered the striker’s initial attempt, Andy Robertson and Sadio Mané kept the pressure on down the left. Mané picked out the left-back’s darting run into the area with a delightful pass and the outstanding Scotland captain pulled his cross back for Jota to steer a finish beyond Alex McCarthy.
Mané thought he had made it two when beating McCarthy with an emphatic header from a Robertson free-kick, awarded for a nasty foul by Bednarek on the Senegal international’s calf. VAR intervened for a fractional offside, although this merely delayed the inevitable.
Jota claimed his and Liverpool’s second after a precise, flowing move that started with Alexander-Arnold winning a challenge before finding Mohamed Salah in space on the right. Salah exchanged passes with Jordan Henderson and, with the visiting defence completely exposed, centred for the unmarked Portugal international to tap in at the back post. VAR assessed a possible handball by Alexander-Arnold in the build-up but did not ruin Anfield’s celebrations on this occasion.
There was still almost an hour to go and the third goal arrived minutes later from Thiago who, as against Porto in the Champions League in midweek, pounced on a weak headed clearance to the edge of the area. The midfielder was first to react when Tino Livramento headed away Salah’s cross and fooled Bednarek with an exquisite roll of the foot before driving towards McCarthy’s top left-hand corner. A deflection off Lyanco sent the shot flying into the top right instead.
Southampton were completely outclassed. They were also reliant on Liverpool errors for something, anything, to comfort the admirable number of fans who had trekked up from the south coast. Even then, Alisson stood in their way. The Liverpool goalkeeper reacted smartly to smother at the feet of James Ward-Prowse when the visiting captain dispossessed Thiago and found himself through on goal. He saved from Armando Broja when the striker seized on a poor throw-in by Alexander-Arnold and held off Ibrahima Konaté to sprint into the area.
And he denied Adam Armstrong on the stroke of half-time when, collecting Broja’s cross from the right, the striker drilled low towards the bottom corner.
The second half also opened in worrying fashion for Hasenhüttl’s team when Van Dijk scored his first Liverpool goal since returning from injury. Another Southampton old boy was involved in the fourth, Mané forcing McCarthy into action when attempting a curler into the top corner from distance. From the resulting corner by Alexander-Arnold, Oriol Romeu switched off on the penalty spot and left Van Dijk free to volley under the exposed and overworked Southampton keeper.
Jota missed a chance for a hat-trick when steering Robertson’s low cross wide at full stretch and Salisu prevented Salah’s goal-bound shot from reaching the target with a well-timed header. Hasenhüttl had made a double substitution at the interval, replacing Che Adams and Bednarek with Nathan Tella and Nathan Redmond respectively, but while Southampton stemmed the tide of clear-cut chances in the second half the game was long gone. From minute two.