This was a result and a match that defied form and logic, but then Southampton under Mauricio Pochettino seem to have made that something of a speciality. Since he replaced Nigel Adkins in January, Saints have lost to Queens Park Rangers and Newcastle and failed to beat Norwich and Wigan – but put a team with European ambitions in front of them and they are a different proposition.
Until yesterday an improbable victory over Manchester City was Pochettino's only Premier League success, but the style of this dismissal of Liverpool suggests that more will follow, with the caveat that his team's results are scarcely predictable. Yesterday, though, Southampton dominated a team in search of a fifth successive victory, with the league's top scorer Luis Suarez coming into the game in imperious form, and could have scored more than three times, even if their own defending was nothing to brag about.
"I always like to get victories," the Argentinian Pochettino said via an interpreter. "What is important is that the team believes in the methods I am trying to instil. We set up in a very positive way and I think we made Liverpool really uncomfortable on the pitch. We pressed them and put in a really big effort and that's the way we want to play."
Suarez, with seven goals in his previous four appearances, cut a frustrated figure as the openings that Liverpool created failed to come his way. The visitors' defence was especially shambolic in the absence of the injured Jamie Carragher, and Steven Gerrard was unable to establish any dominance in midfield. "We just weren't very good," Liverpool's manager, Brendan Rodgers, said. "We didn't start to play until we were 2-0 down. We looked bright in attack, but it's very difficult when you concede goals like we did. It's something I know we need to improve on and develop as a group."
Brad Jones, the Liverpool goalkeeper, probably guessed he was in for a torrid afternoon when Gaston Ramirez's half-volley sent him sprawling full-length in the opening minutes as Southampton passed and moved at pace like a Paisley-era Liverpool team. After five minutes they were ahead, Ramirez crossed from the right, Jay Rodriguez evaded Glen Johnson to head the ball down and Morgan Schneiderlin beat Martin Skrtel to flick the ball past Jones with the outside of his right foot.
It should have been two after nine minutes. Liverpool fan Rickie Lambert was as surprised as anyone to find himself onside as he ran on to a long hopeful punt, but with only the advancing Jones to beat he hit the ball against the goalkeeper's feet. Then Adam Lallana's shot was parried by Jones, Rodriguez volleying the rebound over.
Just when you wondered if Southampton would regret their profligacy, they doubled the lead after 32 minutes thanks to a huge stroke of fortune. Lambert got up after a foul on him by Skrtel 30 yards out to strike the free-kick straight at the wall, only for the ball to hit Daniel Sturridge and skid wide of the helpless Jones.
Yet even as Southampton dominated, their defence looked vulnerable to counter-attacks. After 40 minutes, Philippe Coutinho raced through and hit a shot against the legs of Saints' goalkeeper Artur Boruc when he should have scored. However, the Brazilian – believed to have been a target for Pochettino in January after playing for him on loan at Espanyol last season – made amends in first-half injury time. Sturridge turned on Gerrard's headed pass and fired into a crowd of defenders, the rebound falling for Coutinho to sweep the ball home from five yards.
Anyone who expected both managers to tighten the defences at half-time was pleasantly surprised as the chances continued to flow. Suarez was inches from reaching a chipped pass from Lucas Leiva, Luis Enrique headed away at full stretch to prevent Lallana nodding in, and then Lallana could have made sure after 77 minutes when he timed his run into the penalty area perfectly but was unable to lift the ball over Jones.
It did not matter as Rodriguez made it 3-1 a minute later, running unchallenged from half-way, side-stepping Skrtel and Daniel Agger and shooting low. Jones blocked, but Rodriguez followed up to restore justice to the scoreline.