SOUTHAMPTON, England — Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino set each other up for goals in Liverpool’s 2-0 win at Southampton in the Premier League as Virgil van Dijk made a triumphant return at St. Mary’s stadium on Sunday.
On an afternoon when Van Dijk shrugged off the jeers of his former club’s home fans in an assured display in defense, Salah and Firmino excelled at the other end of the pitch to push Liverpool into third place and within two points of second-placed Manchester United.
Firmino slotted home a pass from Salah to give Liverpool a sixth-minute lead and the pair combined again to make it 2-0 in the 42nd, this time Salah running onto his teammate’s flick to score with an emphatic finish.
With 22 goals in his first season for Liverpool, Salah is only one behind Harry Kane in the race to become top scorer in the Premier League with 11 games left.
Van Dijk was booed on his every touch on his first return to St. Mary’s following his $100 million move to Liverpool in late December. The Dutchman predicted he would be a target of Southampton fans and was seen laughing to himself after hearing the first round of jeers.
He seemed to thrive in the atmosphere, putting in arguably his best display since his world-record transfer for a defender by regularly making interceptions, passing with assurance and being dominant in the air. Van Dijk left with his first clean sheet since joining Liverpool.
Salah cost about half of Van Dijk’s fee and continues to make a mockery of it.
He set up Firmino’s goal after capitalizing on Southampton center back Wesley Hoedt’s miskick, running through and flicking a pass inside. Firmino met it with a first time shot with his left foot that found the bottom corner.
Firmino returned the favor with an even defter pass at the edge of the area that pierced the Southampton defense. Salah didn’t need an extra touch, either, before curling a finish into the corner from a central position.
Salah and Firmino both squandered chances to double their personal tallies in the second half as Southampton took risks and left gaps at the back.
Van Dijk was one of four former Southampton players to play for Liverpool on Sunday, along with Sadio Mane and second-half substitutes Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren. Another ex-Saint — Nathaniel Clyne — is out injured.