Darwin Nunez scored twice to help Liverpool end the first part of their topsy-turvy Premier League season on a high.
The Reds beat Southampton 3-1 at Anfield and handed new Saints boss Nathan Jones a losing start after he replaced the sacked Ralph Hasenhuttl on Thursday. A glum Jurgen Klopp was forced to watch to the encounter from the directors’ box as he served his one-match touchline ban, but the Reds boss was delighted to see Roberto Firmino open the scoring after just six minutes.
Che Adams quickly got Southampton back on level terms, though, powering a header past Alisson Becker, whose saves in the second period ensured that Liverpool weren’t pegged back again after a first-half goal-fest. The Reds soon restored their lead through Nunez, who notched a second goal before half-time to ultimately secure all three points before heading to the World Cup.
Here are six talking points from Anfield.
Difference in the dugouts
On Monday morning, the two mangers due to be in the two Anfield technical areas were Jurgen Klopp and Ralph Hasenhuttl. By Saturday afternoon, it was neither. Replacing the sacked Austrian at St Mary’s, Nathan Jones was given the opportunity to face Klopp in the opposite dugout for his first game in charge – until that chance was snatched away from him on Friday night.
That’s because, with less than 24 hours until kick-off, the FA won their appeal to slap the Liverpool boss with a one-match touchline ban for his outburst during the Reds’ recent 1-0 win at home to Manchester City. So, as Jones stepped out at Anfield to begin his tenure, he was instead greeted by Klopp’s assistant, Pep Lijnders.
Firmino’s quick-fire response
Firmino’s quick-fire response
Barring the jam-packed action on the pitch this week, all the talk in football has been about the World Cup, and who will and won’t be playing in Qatar. Brazil’s squad selection made headlines on Monday, as manager Tite made the bold decision to leave out Roberto Firmino, whose resurgent form this season has saved Liverpool’s start to the season from being even worse.
On his first start since Tite’s snub, however, a defiant Firmino took a mere six minutes to make his mark and give his club an early lead – something which hasn’t been at all common for the Reds this campaign. Getting on the end of Andy Roberton’s in-swinging free-kick from the right, the 31-year-old guided a header across goal, as scrambling Southampton goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu watched the ball nestle in the bottom left corner.
Adams’ instant reply
Speaking of those left out of World Cup squads, James Ward-Prowse offered England boss Gareth Southgate a reminder of his qualities when he laid on Southampton’s equaliser just three minutes later. This time Firmino was at fault by giving away a cheap foul on the left flank, allowing the Saints skipper to step up and whip in a trademark delivery.
Scotland international Che Adams easily shrugged off Trent Alexander-Arnold – whose lax defending was on show again – and powered the ball into the back of the net, giving a clean-shaven Alisson no chance. Nathan Jones’ men had responded instantly.
Nunez punishes same old Southampton
Going into gameweek 16, only three Premier League teams in the had conceded more goals than Southampton this season. Ralph Hasenhuttl’s failure to shore up their rear guard played a significant part in his downfall, making it obvious what Jones’ first task will be in order to stave off a relegation battle.
Liverpool posed a constant threat all afternoon, creating goalscoring opportunities at will. That was best demonstrated when Darwin Nunez netted only 12 minutes after Adams had got the Saints back on level terms, as Klopp’s men probed the Southampton defence.
On the decisive occasion, Harvey Elliott found space 25 yards out and played a lovely weighted pass over the Saints’ back line, inviting Nunez to get on the end of it and produce a deft finish to restore the Reds’ lead. And as half-time dawned, the Uruguayan – who continues to silence his critics – bagged again by converting Robertson’s low cross to earn himself a first brace for his new club.
It’s almost two decades to the day since James Milner made his Premier League debut for Leeds United away to West Ham on November 10, 2002. Fast forward to Anfield on Saturday and the evergreen midfield made top-flight appearance number 600 from the substitutes’ bench, becoming just the fourth player to do so.
Alisson still Liverpool’s saint
While Darwin Nunez and Liverpool’s attackers will be in the headlines, Alisson Becker deserves a pat on the back from his dressing room for another assured performance between the posts. Making a number of excellent saves in the second half to prevent a nervy finish, the Brazilian shot-stopper has been the true saviour of the Reds’ ramshackle start to the campaign, showing why he goes into the World Cup as surely the best goalkeeper on the planet.
Southampton, meanwhile, have plenty to ponder over the break, but there were positive signs to take from their trip to Merseyside. Jones’ Saints – who kept on battling until the final whistle – are certainly lacking in experience, but if the Welsh tactician can conjure up even half the magic of his two spells at Luton Town, the future will be bright.