Liverpool (AFP) – Jurgen Klopp saluted Liverpool’s steely focus after they surged 22 points clear at the top of the Premier League with a 4-0 rout of Southampton on Saturday.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jordan Henderson put the runaway leaders in control at Anfield before Mohamed Salah’s double made it an astonishing 100 league points from the last 102 available to them.
A 24th victory in 25 league matches this season and ninth clean sheet in 10 games underlined how Klopp’s side have turned the title race into a procession.
The 22-point lead is the largest in the division’s history and the win also means Liverpool have gone 42 league games without defeat, matching Nottingham Forest’s run in 1977-78 and behind only Arsenal’s 49-game mark in 2003-04.
But Klopp claimed the struggles they experienced in the first half against Southampton demonstrated why he and his players still refuse to start celebrating the title prematurely.
“It’s easy for me to use this game as a description for the situation here,” Klopp said.
“Just incredibly difficult opponents to play against. They’re not here to be part of any party. They want to hurt us, beat us.
“We have to throw everything we have on the pitch and, thankfully, the boys do that. That’s why we are where we are. But we don’t take that for granted, not for a second.
“I promise you, I don’t lie. I’m a very optimistic person but the day before every game my main feeling is concern because I know anything can happen.
“I have never seen anything like it. It is not that I feel stronger and stronger, it is just one great celebration, sometimes more, sometimes less, and then relief, settle, go again.”
– ‘Sensational shift’ –
The ever-growing list of records that Liverpool are amassing proves that, while Klopp is reluctant, his team’s supporters can certainly start their celebrations.
But they had to survive an awkward opening 45 minutes — in which Alisson saved well from Moussa Djenepo and Shane Long — before taking control in controversial fashion two minutes after the restart.
Danny Ings appealed that he had been tripped by Fabinho on his way into the home area but the hosts broke immediately upfield, Oxlade-Chamberlain spearheading a counter-attack which ended in an exchange of passes with Roberto Firmino, and a brilliant finish into the bottom corner of the Southampton goal.
The visitors appealed furiously that they should have been awarded the earlier penalty only to be met with an unfavourable decision from VAR.
It proved to be a moot point when Henderson doubled the lead from a move started when he closed down a clearance from keeper Alex McCarthy and Trent Alexander-Arnold returned it upfield.
Firmino chased the pass down and laid the ball off for Henderson to drive in an unstoppable finish.
Twelve minutes later Henderson himself set up the third, with a magnificent pass which just eluded Jan Bednarek and allowed Salah to chase through and lift the ball over the keeper.
Firmino and substitute Takumi Minamino wasted glorious chances to add to the score before Salah did just that in the final minute.
It came from more strong play by Firmino, who held off defender Jack Stephens before squaring for his Egyptian team-mate to score with an untidy, deflected shot.
“The attitude and the mentality of the boys made it possible we could win this game. It looked not only tricky –- Southampton is too good to be a banana skin –- but it looked today it would probably happen,” Klopp said.
“The boys put a sensational shift in. Everyone went to the point and beyond. We didn’t want to have a 22-point difference today. We wanted to have 73 points.”
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