Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino set up goals for each other as Liverpool won 2-0 on Virgil van Dijk’s return to Southampton.
Salah laid on the opener for Firmino inside six minutes and the Brazilian returned the favour with a sublime back-heel as the Egyptian notched his 22nd Premier League goal of the season just before half-time.
Southampton had their chances to leave a blemish on the latest chapter of Van Dijk’s career, but he tasted victory for in the league for the first time following his £75m January move to Anfield to leave the Saints in the bottom three after one win in an alarming 14-game run.
Liverpool, meanwhile, are looking up rather than down with Jurgen Klopp’s 50th win as Reds boss moving them to within two points of second-placed Manchester United following their defeat at Newcastle.
Southampton: McCarthy (6), Cedric (5), Stephens (6), Hoedt (5), Bertrand (6), Lemina (6), Romeu (5), Hojbjerg (6), Ward-Prowse (6), Tadic (5), Carrillo (6).
Subs: Davis (5), Boufal (5), Long (5).
Liverpool: Karius (8), Alexander-Arnold (7), Matip (7), Van Dijk (8), Robertson (7), Oxlade-Chamberlain (7), Can (7), Wijnaldum (7), Mane (7), Firmino (8), Salah (8).
Subs: Lovren (n/a), Milner (6), Lallana (5).
Man of the Match: Mohamed Salah.
Klopp predicted a hostile reception for Van Dijk and that proved correct as the defender’s every touch was vehemently booed by the home faithful, including a clearance which led to Liverpool’s opener.
Centre-back Wesley Hoedt failed to deal with a long ball, allowing Salah to race in behind and square for Firmino to apply the finishing touch to a clinical counter.
Liverpool failed to build on their early advantage though, allowing Southampton – who had the lion share of possession in the first half – to steady and create three chances.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg registered Saints’ first attempt on target on 18 minutes but Loris Karius was quick off his line to thwart the midfielder’s drive after he got inside Andrew Robertson.
Southampton made one change from the side which won 3-2 at West Brom as Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg replaced Sofiane Boufal. Joel Matip and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started for Liverpool, who were without captain Jordan Henderson as his gradual return to fitness continued.
A frantic 29th minute saw January signing Guido Carrillo head a James Ward-Prowse cross straight at Karius before Dusan returned the favour for the Saints midfielder, whose header drew a fine fingertip save from the Reds stopper.
Liverpool awoke from their slumber and a sensational second came three minutes before the break as Firmino dissected the Saints defence with a sublime back-heel, releasing Salah to stroke the ball beyond Alex McCarthy with a first-time finish.
As Van Dijk soaked up Saints’ attempt at a second-half fight, Liverpool sat back and utilised their rapid counter attacks, although, with the damage done in the first half, no further goals were needed.
- Jurgen Klopp has won 50 of his 95 Premier League games in charge (D28 L17) – the ninth fastest manager to do so in terms of games (95).
- Southampton have won just once in their last 14 Premier League games (D7 L6), keeping just one clean sheet in the process.
- Liverpool have scored more Premier League away goals in this campaign (34) than they managed in the entirety of 2016-17 (33).
- Mohamed Salah has been directly involved in 29 Premier League goals this season (22 goals, 7 assists), the most by a Liverpool player in their debut season for the club in the competition.
- Roberto Firmino has scored 20 goals in all competitions in a single season for the first time since 2013-14 with Hoffenheim (22).
Mauricio Pellegrino: “We are in one situation, but we have to keep going, keep fighting. I am convinced we have got good pace to try to win the next game. It will be long until the end, we have to be there, recover our mentality and in football everything can change in two or three weeks.”
Jurgen Klopp: “It was mature. We scored two wonderful goals and could have scored more in the second half. We deserved the three points, got a clean sheet and no injuries – nearly perfect.”
Man of the Match – Mohamed Salah
There were certainly question marks over Salah’s return to the Premier League when Liverpool splashed more than £30m on him in the summer – but as debut seasons go, they don’t come much better than the Egyptian’s at Anfield.
He effortlessly dispatched Firmino’s back-heel to take his goals tally for the season 29, 22 of which have come in the league. With only Harry Kane able to boast a better return, the signing of Salah looks as shrewd as any.
The fifth round of the FA Cup takes centre stage next weekend, with Southampton travelling to West Brom, who eliminated Liverpool in the previous round. Liverpool, meanwhile, travel to Porto on Wednesday in the Champions League.