Mind the gap, Jose.
In all likelihood, Manchester City will be crowned champions before Easter – but the best-of-the-rest title is still anyone’s guess.
Liverpool failed to score in all four meetings with Southampton last season, but order was restored by a familiar double act.
Roberto Firmino (20 goals, 11 assists) and Mo Salah (22 goals, seven assists) were back in business as Saints slipped back into the bottom three.
Home fans had barely cleared their throats to boo £75 million refugee Virgil Van Dijk on his return to the south coast when Liverpool were ahead inside six minutes.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – another Southampton old boy – sent a hopeful long ball down the channel for the attention of Salah, and when Wesley Hoedt stumbled like a drunk off the last bus, the Egyptian teed up Firmino finished expertly.
Lorius Karius, rushing off his line to narrow the angles, denied Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg a prompt reply.
And the German keeper was required to keep out two headers from £19.2m record Saints signing Guido Carrillo in as many minutes as Saints mustered a spirited response to their early setback.
But Liverpool always carried a nuclear threat on the break, and three minutes before the interval Saints were carved open again.
This time, Firmino provided the assist – with an outrageous back-heel – and Salah the first-time finish for his 22nd bullseye of the campaign.
As if to prove he is human after all, Salah shovelled a glorious chance to make it 3-0 into the side netting in the second half.
1. VVD – Saints fan won’t want this DVD
So how did Virgil Van Dijk cope with the hostile galleries on his return to St Mary’s?
Pretty well, if truth be told.
The world’s most expensive defender probably hasn’t heard somebody called Van Dijk get the bird off so many people since his brother Dick’s dodgy Cockney accent in Mary Poppins.
A pre-match deluge made the pitch tricky – and ripe for comedy howlers – but Van Dijk kept his feet, kept his composure and Liverpool rode their luck when it mattered.
Jurgen Klopp’s men did not always look secure at the back, but the boos for Van Dijk became increasingly half-hearted as the match wore on.
2. Firmino is Scouse of this world
Amid the “world-class” eulogies for a player who has never won a trophy or scored for England at a major tournament, and an Egyptian’s marvellous first season at Anfield, Roberto Firmino’s scoring feats have slipped under the radar like a fighter jet.
When Firmino opened the scoring inside six minutes at St Mary’s, it was his 20th goal of the season in all competitions.
Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero and Mo Salah deserve many of the plaudits coming their way, but Firmino never gets a look-in when the garlands are being handed out.
He may have lost his Brazilian pal Philippe Coutinho in the transfer window, but Firmino remains an integral part of Liverpool’s Fab Four.
In fact, for continuity, he is arguably an indispensable member of it. And for those who needed any further proof, the impudent back-heel which set up Salah to make it 2-0 underscored Firmino’s class.
3. Can you believe it?
Talk about damned with faint praise…
Southampton’s matchday programme was equivocal, at best, in its appreciation of Liverpool midfielder Emre Can’s virtues.
In an age when football clubs deploy communications experts from the Ministry of Truth and man-mark players at every interview, it is rarer than rocking horse droppings to find anyone rocking the boat.
But the Saints official propaganda did not spare Can: “Seems to play either brilliantly or poorly. Sometimes mountainous; sometimes error-strewn.”
As it happens, and for what it’s worth, the Germany international was neither brilliant nor putrid here: He was OK.
4. Saints bow to scoreboard pressure
In Test cricket, they call it scoreboard pressure – batting last when the opponents have posted an ominous total.
At the Open, the clubhouse leader can sit in the locker room with his feet up, waiting for the last man out on the course to blow his chance of lifting the Claret Jug by shovelling his tee shot in the drink when triumph is at his mercy.
And as another weekend of barmy fluctuations unfolded in the Premier League, Southampton were like those batsmen needing 400 to win on a cracked pitch on that last man coming up the 18th fairway.
On one hand, there was a thrilling opportunity to turn over the platoon of ex-Saints in Liverpool’s ranks and escape the drop zone, but Huddersfield and Newcastle’s wins earlier in the day had left them with the unwanted pressure of playing catch-up.
It took five-and-a-half minutes for them to crack under the strain of the tightest relegation battle since Andy Gray and Richard Keys invented football in 1992.
5. Time for Saints to drop Sinatra
Ol’ Blue Eyes would be spinning in his grave if he knew what Southampton had done to his greatest contribution to karaoke.
Saints adopted Frank Sinatra’s My Way as their theme tune a couple of years ago, hoping it would catch on as much as West Ham’s Bubbles anthem or You’ll Never Walk Alone in the red half of Merseyside.
But in terms of popularity, We Are Southampton – the St Mary’s marketing department’s rework of Sinatra – has caught on as much as bubonic plague, and it has been downgraded to a soundbite in the club’s pre-match montage.
It’s time to retire Sinatra, reboot When The Saints Go Marching In as the choice of the huddled masses… and leave those pale imitations of Ol’ Blue Eyes to karaoke nights down the pub or crooning in the shower.