Jose Mourinho chose his words carefully, and they proved to be as candid as they were concerning for Manchester United as its worst start to a Premier League season hit a new low.
“Liverpool,” Mourinho said, “is a better team than us.”
Liverpool’s 3-1 win over its great rival on Sunday was confirmation of that — although it still needed two strokes of luck to underline the gulf that has quickly grown between English soccer’s two grandest clubs.
Xherdan Shaqiri came off the bench and scored goals from deflected shots in the 73rd and 80th minutes to finally give Liverpool daylight in a match it dominated from the start at Anfield. In total, Liverpool had 36 shots to United’s six.
The gap between Liverpool in first place and United in sixth place extended to 19 points after just 17 games.
“We cannot compare with their intensity,” Mourinho said, “we cannot compare with their physicality.”
The sight of former United manager Alex Ferguson looking glum in the stands and United’s record signing, Paul Pogba, burying his head in his thick training top to shield himself from the driving rain summed up the state of United at the moment.
“We can still finish fourth,” Mourinho added. “For sure, we are going to finish top six.”
United is one point above seventh-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers and 11 behind fourth-placed Chelsea.
Shaqiri’s intervention spared Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker from some of his embarrassment after the Brazil international gifted United its equalizer by fumbling a fairly tame cross from Romelu Lukaku into the path of Jesse Lingard in the 33rd minute.
That goal canceled out the 24th-minute opener from Sadio Mane, which came amid a breathless start from Liverpool as United’s defense was opened up constantly.
“The mix-up of big fight and really playing football against an unbelievably strong team,” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said of his team’s performance, which he described as “one of the best we’ve had” in his three-year tenure.
Liverpool reclaimed its one-point lead over Manchester City with nearly half the season gone. United, meanwhile, is on 26 points — its lowest haul after 17 games since the 1990-91 season — and has a goal difference of zero.
HAZARD’S NEW ROLE
Eden Hazard is settling just fine into his new attacking role at Chelsea.
Playing as a “false nine” for the second straight game, Hazard set up Pedro Rodriguez’s early goal and then scored himself for the first time since October to lead Chelsea to a 2-1 win at Brighton.
The Belgium forward usually plays on the left wing but is being deployed by Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri in the center of a mobile front three, between Pedro and Willian. It was an approach Sarri used to great effect when in charge of Italian team Napoli in his previous job.
Hazard set up two goals in Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Manchester City last weekend, leading Sarri to keeping him as the team’s deep-lying central striker at Brighton.
Outplayed in the first half, Brighton improved after the break and reduced the deficit when Solly March turned in a shot from close range in the 66th.
Chelsea stayed eight points behind Liverpool.
HASENHUETTL’S FIRST WIN
The drinks were on Ralph Hasenhuettl at St. Mary’s Stadium.
In a bid to raise spirits at the struggling south-coast club, its new Austrian coach sent drinks vouchers to all season-ticket holders ahead of the game against Arsenal. It wasn’t the only thing the Southampton fans were celebrating on Sunday.
Charlie Austin’s 85th-minute goal sealed a 3-2 win that lifted Southampton out of the relegation zone with 17 of 38 matches gone. It was the first victory for Hasenhuettl since taking over from the fired Mark Hughes two weeks ago, and he greeted the final whistle by running onto the field and leaping into the air in delight.
Arsenal twice came from behind through goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and looked like preserving a 22-game undefeated streak in all competitions and an unbeaten run in the league stretching back to Aug. 18 — a stretch of 14 games. Danny Ings put Southampton ahead both times.
Arsenal stayed in fifth place, but is now three points behind Chelsea.