When Porto sift through the footage of Liverpool's win over Southampton in preparation for their Champions League tussle with the Reds on Wednesday, they will marvel at Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah before being muddled by how to thwart them.
For their first trick at St Mary's, it was the latter with the supply and the former submitting a sweet finish. It took just six minutes for the Reds duo to disrupt Southampton’s stratagem as they combined to convert a slick counter sparked by Loris Karius.
The move was furthered by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Wesley Hoedt failing to cut out his ball into the danger zone, rendering Cedric Soares helpless.
Salah, in possession, drew the defender across and coolly squared a pass to Firmino, who carressed in a left-footed effort from 15 yards out.
If the start to the half pained Saints, the end to it pulped them. With 42 minutes on the clock, Joel Matip sent a dissecting ball to Egypt international Salah, who received it on the half turn 25 yards out, flicked it to the frontman and continued his run. Firmino, backheeled in-between Jack Stephens, Hoedt and Soares, into the space for his team-mate to collect.
Salah hit a first-time finish past Alex McCarthy to drive Liverpool into a position of command and comfort which their general play didn’t warrant.
Southampton had more of the ball, but the visitors had devastating quality on it. Firmino and Salah’s in-sync brilliance painted over the fact that Liverpool’s passing - especially from the midfielders - was as inconsistent as the weather conditions on the south coast, which swung from sunshine to snowstorms within minutes.
“I think not brilliant but we were ready for hard work, doing the right things in the right moment,” Jurgen Klopp, celebrating his 50th Premier League victory, said afterwards. “There were a few things we didn’t do too well in the first half, but we scored fantastic goals – that’s how an away game should be. They were two great goals, to be honest.”
The clinical performance from the pair in the opening 45 was the latest tongue-out, hand-cupped-over-ear salute in the direction of those who spent the summer as well as the early part of the season insisting Liverpool were bankrupt of an attacker capable of delivering 20 goals in a season.
With three months of the campaign remaining, Klopp actually has two to count on: Firmino is on that tally, while Salah has already exceeded it by nine. It is only the third occasion in the last 17 seasons when the club have possessed two players that have reached that figure in a single term.
They provided a goal, assist and three key passes each on Sunday, with Firmino also contributing a match-high six tackles.
“Our boys are important for us,” the Reds boss noted. “What I love is – of course their skills and attitude – but the work-rate is outstanding. Both get the profit from the style of play, that’s for sure as well.
“We play in the areas where they like to have the ball and stuff like this. In this strong league, you cannot be third without fantastic players and, yes, they are two of them.”
The form of Salah and Firmino will encourage Klopp ahead of the last-16 test at Porto. Moreover, though, the manager could also applaud a steely showing from Virgil van Dijk and Karius.
Centre-back Van Dijk, his every action eliciting widespread boos on his return to Southampton, was statuesque in defence while the goalkeeper was solid and proactive between the sticks. It was perhaps poetic that the Netherlands international secured his first clean sheet and victory as a Liverpool player at his former club and in an antagonistic atmosphere.
“He did really well, he dealt with the situation fantastically,” Klopp offered on the £75 million signing.
“We had a little talk before the game and I asked, ‘What do you think?’ He said, ‘No, I’m fine boss’. I don’t want to make him nervous if he isn’t nervous and obviously he wasn’t and that’s good.”
Karius, meanwhile, is benefiting from a run of games and the assertion that he is Liverpool’s No.1. It was the German’s quick throw that birthed the opener, while he thwarted a far-post header from James Ward-Prowse and blocked Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s effort on the half-volley.
“As a Liverpool ‘keeper you need special moments to convince the people and there were at least two of them – and with the first pass for the first goal, there are three situations we can bring on his bill,” said Klopp.
As the game wore on, the Merseysiders should have at least multiplied the scoreline, but they managed the fixture well to move back into third, slicing the difference to Manchester United to two points.
With the focus shifting to continental ambitions in midweek, Liverpool need another stellar showing from their goalscoring aces and defensive leader at Porto. The midfield can’t afford to disappear for large swathes again, while Karius, like Firmino and Salah, has to build up a body of work to still the cynics.