Liverpool analysis: Europe proves no barrier to the Red machine as Xherdan Shaqiri shines briefly but brightly
Jurgen Klopp used his programme notes for the visit of Southampton to Anfield as a call for his side to stay ‘angry’ as they looked to extend their perfect start to the new season.
Of the Saints, the German wrote: “Southampton come here to ruin our day. They come to stop our momentum. They come to win at our home. They come to take the points.”
Ultimately, though, the Reds would have been wasting their time directing any anger at kindly opposition who appeared to have little intention of spoiling the party.
That became evident when Xherdan Shaqiri was given the freedom of the visitors’ area to hammer in the opener off Shane Long and then Wesley Hoedt.
Joel Matip, too, was left all alone to head home the second from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner shortly after.
And by the time Mohamed Salah poked home a rebound from Shaqiri’s free-kick at the end of the opening 45 minutes, all hope of Mark Hughes earning his first managerial win at Anfield was gone.
Perhaps the only impact left by the Saints’ visit will be if their former defender Virgil van Dijk faces a spell out – the defender worryingly substituted in the second period feeling his ribs.
Perfect start for Shaqiri – sort of
Had Liverpool not made a flawless start, Shaqiri’s first competitive start for the club might have come much earlier than their seventh game of the campaign.
But the Swiss’ appearance was worth waiting for, even if – quite undeservedly – he didn’t have a goal to show for it, and his outing lasted just 45 minutes.
Wesley Hoedt will get the unwanted credit for the first goal, but it was all down to Shaqiri’s movement in behind and a powerful right-footed effort that even two deflections couldn’t stop.
And, while the No.23 would hardly have been disappointed to see Salah tap in a rebound off the bar from his brilliant free-kick at the end of the first half, it was more than worthy of a goal.
It is hard to imagine anything other than an injury forced the 26-year-old’s half-time withdrawal, such was his impact on proceedings.
Teething problems for Reds’ new shape
For the first time this season, Klopp deployed a new 4-2-3-1 formation, namely to accommodate the addition of Shaqiri in place of James Milner.
But, while the first 45 minutes were straightforward for the hosts, they might have been punished for the spaces in their shape by better opposition.
Southampton seemed to find picking pockets much easier in the absence of an extra orthodox central midfielder, and it spoke volumes that this problem was largely alleviated when Milner’s introduction led to the return of 4-3-3 at half-time.
Whether Klopp can trust this forward-thinking formation when his team face bigger tests remains to be seen.
A welcome clean sheet
After starting the campaign with three consecutive shut-outs, Liverpool had conceded four goals in winning their last three games.
Klopp insisted in his pre-match press conference that the small number of shots his side has faced in that time gave him confidence that their recent defensive record was just a small blip.
However, it’s always nice to get the rewards for the effort required to reduce opposition attacks, and that’s exactly what the German’s back five received here.
That a fourth clean sheet of the campaign was secured with a new face – Joel Matip – involved bodes well for the rotation that surely lies ahead.
Of course that will be even more true should Van Dijk be facing a long-term spell on the sidelines.
Europe no barrier to the Red machine
Liverpool picked up just seven points from a possible 18 in the aftermath of their six Champions League group games last season, and so Klopp will have been pleased to see his side make a perfect start in that regard here.
It would have been harsh to expect the perfect performance from the hosts given the intensity of their midweek meeting with Paris Saint-Germain, and they were some way short of that in the end.
But they more than did enough to see off Mark Hughes’ men in comfortable fashion – without expending too much energy, either.
That the Reds’ next five post-Champions League games are also scheduled for Anfield should help them improve on last year’s penchant for European hangovers.
Forward line needs to click soon
It seems odd to say after a 3-0 win, but Liverpool’s forward line is still so far from last season’s best that it feels a wake-up call could be around the corner.
It’ll take a better defensive outfit than Southampton to shut the Reds out, but they should have significantly boosted their goal difference in this one.
From trying flicks in acres of space to failing to pick the right passes on the break, Klopp’s front three are making uncharacteristically poor decisions in the final third.
With Chelsea, Napoli and Manchester City on the horizon, that cannot continue.