Liverpool bring back fear factor with Mohamed Salah in flying form
Liverpool made it look easy against Southampton last Saturday and the 3-0 scoreline, impressive though it was, didn't reflect their complete and utter dominance over a team that had given them a lot of problems in recent seasons.
A lot of the talk afterwards centred around how poor Southampton looked, but could it not just be they were made to look that way? Better teams than Southampton have been made to look bad by Liverpool while worse teams than have regularly found ways to frustrate Jurgen Klopp's team.
When Liverpool drop points to these so called "lesser teams" teams they are rightly criticised. Yet when they beat those teams it's often dismissed on the basis that "So what, it was only [insert "lesser team" name here]."
Southampton did not look as resolute or organised as they had in the four meetings between the two sides last season, in which Liverpool not only failed to win but were also unable to score. Perhaps Southampton are not the same team they were last season, but Liverpool aren't either. For one thing, last year they didn't have Mohamed Salah, who scored twice on Saturday to take his goal tally to an impressive 14 in just 18 games.
It's also worth pointing out that prior to their loss at Anfield, Southampton had the joint best defensive record of any team outside of the top seven, and had conceded fewer than both Liverpool and Arsenal and only one more than Chelsea. Many expected this to be a difficult game for Liverpool, but it was as straightforward as could be.
In some ways, comfortably seeing off Huddersfield, West Ham and Southampton should be more encouraging to Liverpool fans than a win over Chelsea next weekend would be. We know Liverpool are capable of winning big games, and even though they've suffered heavy defeats to Manchester City and Tottenham this season, results such as those are not as damaging as continually dropping points in the games you are expected to win.
Liverpool will get a chance for payback against City and Spurs at Anfield later in the season and you would expect the top six to take points off each other throughout the season, so -- assuming City continue to run away with it at the top -- the remaining places in the top six will be determined by who fares best in the games they are expected to win. The Reds scraped into fourth place last season despite going unbeaten against the rest of the top six. Their failings against the rest almost cost them a place in the Champions League.
It appeared that little had changed this year, as points were dropped against Watford, Burnley and Newcastle, but in their last four fixtures (including one in the Champions League) they have won by a margin of three goals in each while only conceding one goal. That's encouraging, and the return of Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane has added another dimension to Liverpool's play.
With a full complement of players to choose from, Klopp has so much firepower at his disposal that it's going to be very difficult for opposing sides to keep them out. Huddersfield and Maribor packed their defences and rarely ventured out of their own half. They got to half time with their goal intact but eventually Liverpool wore them down and ran out comfortable winners. West Ham and Southampton were taken care of more quickly, as Liverpool found the net twice before half time in both games.
As long as they have Salah and Mane available, Liverpool can mix and match the rest of the team without too much disruption. The drop off between first choice and their replacement is negligible in most cases, but the two flying wingers stand out on their own as the two most irreplaceable members of Klopp's team.
Salah has been a revelation and if the season ended now he'd be the only legitimate challenger to City's Kevin De Bruyne as the Player of the Year.
The Egyptian is deservedly making the headlines at the moment while Mane has had his season interrupted due to injury and suspension. Salah has found the net four times in his last two Premier League games and is on a roll. Mane played well in both of those games too but failed to find the net. Expect that to change soon.
The Senegal man could explode at any moment and that's the strength of Liverpool -- if you keep one quiet, the other can get you. And if by some chance you contain both, then you need to also take care of Coutinho or Roberto Firmino.
There was much criticism directed at Klopp and his team after that dismal defeat to Spurs at Wembley, but they have responded in the perfect manner with four convincing wins and are now well-placed both domestically and in Europe.
The next couple of fixtures should be tougher, with a trip to Sevilla on Tuesday followed by a home game against Chelsea at the weekend, but with all of their main attacking players available together for the first time all season, Liverpool can go into any game now with a great deal of confidence.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.