Despite neither scoring, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane were the driving force behind Liverpool’s 5-0 win against Southampton – but Jurgen Klopp will soon lose the pair
No wonder Jurgen Klopp gets a bit prickly when the African Cup of Nations is mentioned.
For clarity, he does NOT think it is a ‘little tournament’. He knows it is a major tournament.
Klopp was being ironic. Bitterly ironic, as it happens, because when Liverpool lose Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, even if it is only for a couple of Premier League games, he knows that keeping full momentum behind a title challenge will be tough.
The pair did not score in this rout of a hapless Southampton but they scared what passed for a Saints defence out of its skin.
Scoring honours went to Diogo Jota (twice), Thiago Alcantara and Virgil van Dijk but Mane and Salah were their customary outstanding selves.
Join the debate! How should Klopp deal with losing Salah and Mane? Comment your thoughts here.
The fact that Salah draws so much acclaim means Mane actually goes slightly under the radar.
His all-round game is certainly under-appreciated.
For example, there are few who are as aerially accomplished as Mane.
And he does not get enough credit for his vision.
Andy Robertson provided the assist for Jota’s opener but Mane’s pass to the left-back, through the legs of Jan Bednarek, was an absolute peach.
Mane and Salah are, quite simply, a joy to watch, the Egyptian sliding across the assist for Jota’s tap-in second.
Jota is proving himself to be a right time-right place sort of footballing guy.
He is actually not that quick, certainly not in comparison to his two attacking running mates, but, as the old adage suggests, he gains half a yard in his head.
Jota is a clever finisher, a brainy operator, as he demonstrated in the previous Premier League game at Anfield when accepting a defensive gift from Arsenal.
The third position in the forward triumvirate is neither strengthened or weakened if it’s Jota or the currently-injured Roberto Firmino who fills it.
The other pair, though, are a shoo-ins, automatics on Klopp’s team sheet. As is Alisson, of course. And while the irresistibility of Liverpool’s forward play produced this almost-casual demolition, it is worth noting the goalkeeper’s contribution.
It would be stretching it to suggest Southampton could have gone in level at the interval – and Thiago had extended Liverpool’s lead to three by then – if it was not for Alisson’s excellence … but not by that much.
To say you need a world-class keeper to win a title is blindingly obvious and you would be hard-pressed to rank the three who do the job for Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Each is excellent and each has their individual strengths.
But Klopp would not swap Alisson for anyone, that is for sure.
The Brazilian did not have a huge amount to do in a routine second half in which Southampton’s startling ineptitude was demonstrated when a Trent Alexander-Arnold corner was allowed to drop directly on to Van Dijk’s right boot.
Alex McCarthy ’s attempt to keep out the Dutchman’s volley just about summed up a very sorry Southampton defence. Scruffy and ineffective.
To be fair, better defences suffer against this Liverpool team. In patches, they are remorseless in their assault on the opposition penalty area.
Since the defeat to West Ham United at the London Stadium and the international break, they have played three matches, won them all, scoring ten and conceding none.
Have your say! Who stood out for Liverpool against Southampton? Rate the players below.
They are the Premier League’s top scorers by some distance.
If Manchester City beat West Ham at the Etihad, the Big Three will have formed a distinct breakaway.
And the battle between them over the next six months will be a compelling one.
Free-scoring Liverpool, superbly-organised Chelsea, ultra-slick City.
Despite yet another emphatic win, Liverpool remain the bookmakers’ outsiders of the trio.
But if Liverpool can power through the period when they lose Salah and Mane – and who knows what the Covid situation will be in January? – you would be a mug to bet against this red machine.