SOUTHAMPTON, United Kingdom: Virgil Van Dijk said he enjoyed playing the pantomime villain on his return to Southampton as Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah ensured Liverpool ran out 2-0 winners at St Mary’s.
The Dutchman was jeered by the home support following his Â£75 million ($104 million) move to Anfield last month, but got his revenge by sending a toothless Saints side tumbling into the relegation zone, and claiming his first Premier League win since becoming the world’s most expensive defender.
By contrast, Liverpool moved back above Tottenham Hotspur into third and to within two points of bitter rivals Manchester United in second following the Red Devils defeat at Newcastle earlier on Sunday.
“I think it is a bit unfair because no-one really knows what happened over the summer and the last few months but I just kept my head down and enjoyed it,” said Van Dijk.In a recurring theme of Liverpool’s season, Jurgen Klopp’s men made a fast start by scoring inside 10 minutes for the ninth time this campaign.
Van Dijk began the move as he cut out a cross with his head before Liverpool ‘keeper Loris Karius freed another former Southampton player Alex Oxlade Chamberlain.His pass to Salah was turned inside by the Egyptian for Firmino to apply the finishing touch for his 20th goal of the season.
“Important for us to get a good start. When you score 10, 15 minutes in, it makes the game easier, (there is) less pressure,” said Salah.Southampton responded well to going behind, but lacked a clinical touch as their wait for a first home league win since November continued.
Pierre-Emile Hojberg had the hosts’ best chance for an instant reply when he fired too close to Karius at the back post.The German goalkeeper was then put to work by headers from Guido Carrillo and twice by James Ward-Prowse but wasn’t unduly troubled.
“Loris was there. I’m really happy for that because as a Liverpool ‘keeper you need special moments to convince the people,” Klopp said showing his public support for Karius, who has been under the spotlight for some high-profile errors this season.
And Liverpool showed why the sides are battling at different ends of the table with a stunning move to double their lead three minutes before half-time.Firmino returned the favour from the first goal with an audacious backheel into Salah’s path and he slotted the ball into the bottom corner for his 22nd league goal of the campaign to close back to within one of Harry Kane in the golden boot race.
Salah missed a huge chance to move level with the Englishman when he side-footed into the side-netting with the goal at his mercy after Alex McCarthy had saved Firmino’s initial effort 20 minutes from time.
Van Dijk had been subjected to criticism following shock defeats to Swansea and West Brom and conceding a last gasp penalty as Spurs snatched a draw at Anfield in his previous three outings.But the former Saints captain will scarcely have had an easier 90 minutes at St. Mary’s as Southampton failed to muster any danger after the break.
“Today the biggest defeat was the way we played in the second-half,” said under-fire Saints boss Mauricio Pellegrino, whose substitutions after the break were met with cries of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ from the home crowd.“Our belief and our confidence was really down and for me this is the worst part of the game.”