Mohamed Salah’s season continues to go from strength to strength as the brilliant Egyptian scored one and made another to lift Liverpool back into third and close the gap on Manchester United.
It was the perfect way to prepare for Wednesday nights’ trip to Porto for the Champions League knockout stages as they cruised to victory against a beleaguered Southampton.
“I really think Harry Kane and Aguero are good players and some others but our boys are important for us. I love their skills and their attitude but really it is their work rate that impresses me,” said Jurgen Klopp of his goalscorers.
“We take whatever we can get. I didn’t know before the game that United would lose but we’re not too far away but it’s not a battle between us and them,” he added after Liverpool closed the gap to Jose Mourinho’s side to two points.
Awaiting the late kick-off on Sunday, Mauricio Pellegrino will have watched the weekend’s results with dismay as he contemplated the daunting visit of Jurgen Klopp’s side. Wins for Huddersfield, Swansea and Newcastle meant that the Saints were plunged back into the relegation zone despite their win at West Bromwich Albion last weekend.
Their predicament became worse after just six minutes when Wesley Hoedt failed to intercept Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass allowing Salah to feed Firmino who finished low into the corner.
“Obviously it was really tough to conceded really soon, too early. When you play against this side, I said before you have to do everything almost perfect,” said Pellegrino.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg should have levelled matters after Oriol Romeu picked him out at the far post but Loris Karius made himself big and blocked the Dane’s close-range effort.
Virgil van Dijk’s return did not go unnoticed and the Dutchman was booed with every touch. On the pitch he had a relatively quiet afternoon, with only Southampton’s Guido Carrillo being employed in attack. The Argentinian, the club’s record buy from Monaco last month, rose to head James Ward-Prowse’s cross at goal but Karius was equal to it.
From the next attack, Ward-Prowse then got on the end of Dusan Tadic’s deep delivery with Karius this time being forced to tip over.
“We played the best part of the game in the first half,” said Pellegrino. “Obviously after the second goal it was really difficult for us to come back and little by little our confidence was really down and that was the worst part for me.
“You have to show another spirit to bounce back at least. I think today the biggest defeat is the way we played in the second half."
Liverpool’s second came via a devastating one-two between Firmino and Salah finishing with the latter sweeping home his 29th goal of the season in all competitions.
Former Liverpool defender Pellegrino was forced into a change just before the hour mark when influential Gabonese midfielder Mario Lemina limped off to be replaced by Sofiane Boufal.
For Liverpool, this was the perfect way to prepare for Wednesday night’s trip to Portugal. Klopp’s side did not have to overexert themselves on the South Coast and will fancy themselves to score in the away leg.
After this, only four of Saints’ eleven remaining games are at home and their Premier League future remains very much in the balance.
This result means that they have equalled their Premier League record of seven home games without a win and they could hardly have made this easier Liverpool.
Southampton (4-2-3-1): McCarthy 6; Cedric 6, Stephens 6, Hoedt 5, Bertrand 6; Romeu 6 (Davis 80), Lemina 7 (Boufal 57); Ward-Prowse 6 (Long 71), Hojbjerg 7, Tadic 6; Carrillo 6.
Subs: Forster, Yoshida, Gabbiadini, Redmond.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Karius 7; Alexander-Arnold 7; Matip 7, Van Dijk 7, Robertson 6; Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Milner 60), Can 6, Wijnaldum; Salah 8 (Lovren 89), Firmino 8 (Lallana 79), Mane 7.
Subs: Mignolet, Moreno, Ings, Solanke.
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