Southampton began a new era under Nathan Jones with defeat at Anfield, but only the brilliance of goalkeeper Alisson prevented a more nervous afternoon for the hosts.
Liverpool edged in front inside six minutes, as Roberto Fimino headed in Andrew Robertson’s free-kick, but Saints were quick to respond in similar fashion as Ché Adams met a devilish delivery from James Ward-Prowse.
By half time the scoring was complete, as Darwin Núñez struck a brace, including a second Robertson assist, but Alisson denied Mohamed Elyounoussi, Samuel Edozie and Adams in the space of 12 second-half minutes, leaving Saints unable to mount a late revival.
New manager Jones made three changes to Saints’ last league line-up, including a first start since August for Roméo Lavia, as well as recalls for Duje Ćaleta-Car and Adam Armstrong, as Juan Larios, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Theo Walcott dropped to the bench.
Ćaleta-Car was the central cog in a three-man defence, with Elyounoussi and Romain Perraud operating as wing-backs.
Stuart Armstrong and Ward-Prowse occupied a three-man midfield with Lavia at the base of it, while Adams was partnered by Adam Armstrong up front.
Straightaway there was early intent from Saints, as Elyounoussi’s teasing cross offered an early chance to Adams, but the striker’s header glanced wide of the far post.
Liverpool’s first attack saw Ćaleta-Car go into the book inside five minutes for blocking off Mohamed Salah in full flight, before Saints paid an even bigger price from the resulting free-kick.
Robertson’s inswinging delivery from the right was helped on by Firmino with a glancing header that did not carry any great power, but it skidded off the surface and beat the dive of Gavin Bazunu to nestle just inside the far post.
It might have been a long afternoon from that point on, but Saints’ response was immediate, as Ward-Prowse delivered a set-piece even more enticing than Robertson’s – a devilish free-kick from deep that curled in towards Alisson’s goal and invited Adams to nip in front of the advancing keeper and head home the equaliser in front of the Kop.
It had been a confident start from Saints, despite the initial setback, but they needed Bazunu to make an impressive point-blank save from Salah to preserve parity as the Egyptian closed in on Núñez’s low cross.
It would take an important intervention from Bella-Kotchap to prevent Núñez going eye to eye with Bazunu soon after, but the Saints defence could not stop the Uruguayan midway through the first half when Harvey Elliott’s delicate chip into the box was perfect for the striker to guide a controlled volley into the bottom corner from eight yards.
Suddenly the confidence was coursing through the Reds, as Bazunu made another outstanding stop, this time from Firmino as Núñez backheeled the ball into his path, before Salah was allowed time to turn and shoot in the box, but a touch off Perraud took the sting out of his shot.
Saints needed to get to half time still in the contest, but Núñez’s second gave Liverpool breathing space when Robertson got in behind down the left and crossed low for the striker to slide in and double his tally three minutes before the break.
Adams was denied the chance to get a brace of his own when he was penalised for a soft foul in the Liverpool box, though he did skew the chance wide regardless.
There were still opportunities for Saints, who carved out the first of the second half when Adam Armstrong raced through, but his left-footed shot was tame and comfortably saved.
The former Blackburn marksman had another go when Perraud’s low cross was deflected into his path, but again it fell to his left foot and this time he snatched at the opening, dragging the shot wide.
With those chances not taken, Saints were nearly punished when Trent Alexander-Arnold produced a trademark cross for Salah, who missed a glaring opportunity to put the game to bed but headed over from six yards.
Jones’s first substitutions all came at once – three in fact, as Maitland-Niles, Walcott and Edozie replaced Ćaleta-Car and the two Armstrongs.
The chances kept coming for Saints. First for Elyounoussi, thwarted by Alisson from a tight angle when he needed someone to square it to for a tap in.
Then Edozie, often a bright spark off the bench, played a sharp one-two in the box only to be foiled by Alisson’s best save to date, as Brazil’s No 1 spread himself and got a foot to the ball to deny the 19-year-old.
At the other end, Bella-Kotchap made up for his own mistake when he gifted possession to Salah before showing an impressive turn of pace to get back at the prolific forward, doing enough to put him off without committing a foul, as Salah’s penalty claims were rightly ignored.
Virgil van Dijk also threatened a fourth, but Saints were still carrying some punch of their own. Maitland-Niles, playing at right-back after Jones switched to a back four, produced a peach of a cross on to the head of Adams, who did very little wrong, heading the ball down towards the bottom corner, but Alisson was there, yet again, to repel a frustrated visiting attack.