Analysis: Salah ends ‘drought’ but much more to come from dominant Reds

Analysis: Salah ends ‘drought’ but much more to come from dominant Reds

Liverpool made it six wins from six matches this season, overcoming Southampton thanks to three first-half goals.

Matt Addison

Liverpool have won their first seven matches of a season for the first time in their history, beating Southampton by three goals to nil.

On Jurgen Klopp's 600th game as a manager, Joel Matip and Mo Salah scored, as well as an own goal from Wesley Hoedt, to put the Reds top of the table and with a 100% record after six league games.

With Liverpool facing two games a week for the foreseeable future, Klopp made three changes to his team from the side that beat Paris-Saint Germain midweek, with Xherdan Shaqiri coming in for James Milner, Matip replacing Joe Gomez, and Roberto Firmino regaining his place from Daniel Sturridge.

Despite the alterations, Liverpool were comfortable throughout, keeping their fourth Premier League clean sheet despite Matip coming in for Gomez and Virgil van Dijk going off injured just ten minutes into the second half.

The Dutchman bruised a rib during the Champions League group game with PSG on Tuesday, and came off when he felt the same injury reoccur, but Van Dijk is not expected to be missing for long.

All three of Liverpool's goals came in the first half, in the period when Klopp had subtly changed his tactics.

Attack, attack, attack

In anticipation of Southampton sitting deep and looking to hit Shane Long on the counter-attack, Shaqiri was added as a fourth attacker, with Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson capable of shutting down any sporadic potential dangerous moments from the visitors, and the front four allowed to drift and create.

Salah, in a perceived poor run of form despite having scored a more than respectable three goals in six games – just one fewer than he had at this stage last season – was deployed centrally, with Sadio Mané placed on the right-hand side and Firmino able to drift in from the left.

Swiss international Shaqiri was able to drop deep to collect the ball and facilitate attacks from a position just behind that potent front line.

It was exactly that movement and guile from Shaqiri that spawned the first goal. With just ten minutes on the clock, Shaqiri popped up on the left-hand side, came inside onto his unfavoured right foot and put a low ball into the centre.

Hoedt could do nothing as he ricocheted the ball past his own goalkeeper, Alex McCarthy, and from then on the result never looked disputable.

Matip was shaky at times, in one moment squandering possession when attempting a pass to Van Dijk, who was already clearly marked, but he grew into the game.

It speaks volumes for how far Gomez has come that him being on the bench showed exactly what the team missed in his absence. Many inside Anfield expressed concern prior to the game that the England international was named on the bench; this time last season, question marks hung over his long-term future at the club. 

Ten minutes after the opening goal, Matip headed home from a Trent Alexander-Arnold out-swinging corner kick, in what proved to be a boost to his confidence.

The cross into the penalty area from the young full-back was pinpoint, but the Cameroonian still needed to convert it under pressure.

If at 1-0 Southampton and Mark Hughes still felt like they had a chance, the second goal seemed like another nail in the Saint’s coffin.

In times gone by, Southampton have been able to stifle Liverpool, particularly under the guidance of Claude Puel, but this Liverpool team is a different proposition.

The man of the first half was undoubtedly Shaqiri, but he was to be taken off at half-time, perhaps in a premeditated change for Milner. Klopp confirmed at full-time that the change was purely tactical, but it was a surprise nonetheless to see him withdrawn. 

Before being substituted, the former Stoke City man hit the crossbar with a free kick from 25 yards, with Salah able to tap in the rebound.

It was a sensational effort in the first place, while for Salah, whispers of a crisis can surely now cease.

It was a simple finish, with Shaqiri taking much of the credit, but the Egyptian was in the right place at the right time, as he so often is.

Game over

In the second half, the job for the home side was already complete. Klopp could not resist from tinkering at the break, though, bringing Milner into the midfield to shore up that area, and restoring his front three to their usual positions.

Mané moved inside as the central striker on occasion, but generally, the second half saw a more normal setup of Firmino central and Salah stationed out on the right.

Back in familiar territory, Liverpool hit cruise control. Milner came on and continued where he left off on Tuesday evening, buzzing around the pitch like a man ten years his junior and demanding possession confidently like the experienced professional he is.

Henderson and Wijnaldum did nothing too adventurous, but kept possession dominantly; Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold were conservative when they needed to be rather than overly daring.

This experienced and wily approach is not something that has always been evident with Klopp's Liverpool sides, but it shows how far they have come under his management; this is a controlling style of play that wins titles, and the Reds are currently top of the pack.

Salah could have had a hat-trick had it not been for the offside flag, while Alisson had no saves to make. This is the new Liverpool: controlling, dominant, and on a roll.

The only concern from Saturday afternoon was that Van Dijk went off injured, but that appears likely to only be a short-term worry.

Next up is a double-header against Chelsea, firstly in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday and then in the league next weekend at Stamford Bridge. He will not be risked in the cup, but hopes to be back for the league game.

Win both of those, or at least avoid defeat to maintain momentum, and Liverpool will be making light work of what was seen as a potentially sticky period thanks to a difficult fixture list. 

There is more style to come from the Reds, but in terms of substance and points on the board, the perfect start to the season continued. 


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