There can’t be much doubt now that Mohamed Salah was the signing of the summer. Once again the Egyptian scored as Liverpool moved to within two points of Manchester United in second with a 2-0 win over Southampton at St Mary’s.
Roberto Firmino scored the other goal in what was a comfortable victory for the away side, who were on top for most of the game to help manager Jürgen Klopp take three points for the 50th time in the Premier League.
Southampton, however, are in real trouble and have dropped to 18th. That will surely raise questions over Mauricio Pellegrino’s future.
From that to a look at Virgil van Dijk’s return after his protracted move to the Reds, here are five things we learned from the game at St Mary’s Stadium.
Van Dijk stabilises Liverpool’s defence
The match was always going to be about van Dijk before kick-off.
The former Southampton man left the South Coast for Liverpool for a world-record £75million fee for a defender in January and this was his first time back to St Mary’s.
It didn’t start too for him, who appeared to try and enter the home dressing room upon his arrival.
Before the match, Klopp had warned him about the atmosphere at the game.
“It will probably not be the most friendly,” said the Liverpool boss, when asked what reception Van Dijk was likely to receive in the pre-match press conference.
“We don’t think about it. It will be more normal in the future but for now we have to go there and play football, and nothing else.
“I don’t think anybody in Southampton would say we have stolen him. It was a very public deal.”
Unsurprisingly, Klopp was right, with the Dutchman being booed, alongside former Saints man Sadio Mané, from the opening minutes.
Van Dijk didn’t let that get to him, dominating alongside the impressive Joël Matip in defence, hardly letting Saints have a snip. The pair won 12 aerial duels between them.
It was the first clean sheet they’ve kept since the Dutchman’s arrival, and that’s a sign on how he’s started to improve their famously shaky defence under Klopp.
Hoedt and Stephens aren’t at van Dijk’s level
Despite receiving £75million for van Dijk, Southampton failed to buy a defender in the summer.
“I think we have got enough players to replace Van Dijk,” Saints boss Pellegrino said when asked leading up to the match.
With van Dijk playing alongside Hoedt in his last few games at Southampton, it’s been Stephens who appears to be the replacement, and he’d done well in the recent games, scoring three in his last three.
That had earned praise from his boss.
“Jack is a home-grown academy player who has got the capacity to be an important player,” Pellegrino added.
“Last season, little by little, Jack was playing more in the second part of the season and that is more or less the same now.
“Without Virgil, Jack has got more possibilities and he has to keep working and remain humble to improve.”
However, he’s playing on the right-hand side of defence, while van Dijk tended to play on the left last season, before Hoedt’s arrival – perhaps the Dutchman was signed to replace his compatriot the transfer window before he left.
And it was Hoedt who was at fault for the opener, failing to deal with a long ball towards him, allowing Salah to nick it off him and play in Firmino.
Nothing is sure, but it’s not a mistake you’d have expected van Dijk to make.
He had a glorious chance of putting his side back in it the second half but managed to put it wide from a couple of yards out.
Once again, you associate van Dijk with finding the back of the net from situations like that, which won’t be something Hoedt will want to think about.
Stephens also could have given away a penalty when he put his arm around Firmino in the box in the first half.
Neither of them looked particularly comfortable against the away side’s front line – but to be fair to them, who does?
Liverpool don’t need a traditional striker
Firmino and Salah aren’t proper strikers, but alongside Mané they are a terrifying prospect for opposition defences up and down the country.
The pair linked up well with both assisting the other for the opening two goals, Firmino’s 12th and Salah’s 22nd of the Premier League season.
Liverpool went into the game as top away scorers in Europe with 32 in 13 Premier League games before this weekend, and while Southampton weren’t the greatest team in defence, with their front three it’s easy to see why.
They’re a team in Klopp’s image and the front three’s pace in particular just underline how the German has made the Reds so dangerous in attack. One mistake and they’re onto the opposition defence and before they know it, the ball is in the opposition net.
The first goal – a counter-attack with three passes from Loris Karius in his box to Firmino in the opposition area was pure Klopp.
What’s more, the Brazilian has an assist and a goal in 11 matches this season now. He may not be a classic No.9 but Liverpool don’t need one when he’s playing.
Time to consider Pellegrino’s future
While Southampton may have gone into the game on a six-match unbeaten run, there’s no doubt they’re mired in a relegation battle.
That unbeaten run hid the fact that before their win over West Bromwich Albion last weekend, they’d gone 12 Premier League games without tasting victory.
Their home record is real cause for concern, they’ve now not won in seven, without a league victory at St Mary’s since November. Indeed, they have won just three times in front of their own fans in the Premier League all season.
But it’s not like they’re doing well away from home either they’ve now won just one their last 14 league games. That’s really worrying form indeed.
Saints were widely regarded as the ideal club to follow to show how to sell players and keep mid-table security each year. This season they’re in real trouble, but luckily for them so many other teams are too – they are just five points off ninth.
David Moyes, Carlos Carvalhal, Roy Hodgson, Claude Puel and Sam Allardyce have all taken over teams towards the bottom of the able and overseen an improvement. As Saints’ Premier League future lies in the balance, maybe they should consider a change at the top. The former Alavés manager certainly hasn’t taken the team forwards.
Southampton miss Austin
With only one player – Charlie Austin – having scored more than three Premier League goals for Southampton this season, it was so surprise to see them bring in a striker during the January transfer window, with Guido Carrillo arriving from Monaco for a club-record fee £19million.
The 26-year-old Argentine may not be the quickest, but he was constantly a threat in the air in his second league start for Saints, forcing Loris Karius into making a good save from his header at 1-0 in the first half.
That was his only effort though, and if Saints want a goalscorer to help them escape this relegation battle, they’ll need to find him more often so he can have better opportunities.
With just 15 league goals over two-and-a-half seasons at Monaco, he doesn’t look like an out and out goal getter though. And what’s more, like many other Saints players, he seems short of confidence. If he doesn’t score soon, he could follow the likes of Manolo Gabbiadini and Shane Long, who’ve struggled to find the back of the net while wearing Saints colours this season.
Austin is out for another month with a hamstring injury. How they miss him.