Liverpool (AFP) – Mohamed Salah scored twice as Liverpool clinched a comfortable 3-0 victory over Southampton to remain in the pack chasing Premier League leaders Manchester City on Saturday.
The Egyptian international moved to the top of the league’s scoring charts on nine goals with a brace before half-time and Philippe Coutinho added a third for Jurgen Klopp’s side after the interval.
Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino had spells as both a player and coach at Anfield during Rafael Benitez’s tenure, but the visitors posed little threat on his return.
Early on, Saints goalkeeper Fraser Forster was forced to save long-range efforts from Georginio Wijnaldum and Coutinho.
However, the hosts took a deserved lead just after the half-hour mark which opened the game up and allowed Liverpool to ultimately record an emphatic win which kept them fifth in the table.
Dusan Tadic was caught in possession by Roberto Firmino on the edge of the penalty area following a Liverpool corner -– electing to cut inside rather than work the ball to the flank.
Wijnaldum slipped the ball to Salah who took a touch to compose himself, before effortlessly curling past Forster and into the top corner of the net from 18 yards.
It meant Salah had eight goals from his first 12 Premier League appearances for the Reds -– the joint most after that number of matches with Robbie Fowler.
Shortly before half-time Salah, who joined Liverpool from Italian side Roma in June, overhauled Fowler’s goalscoring stat with his second of the contest.
Coutinho, afforded space in central midfield, intelligently threaded a ball with the outside of his boot for Salah, and the Egyptian’s anticipation enabled him to steal a march on the Saints defence.
– ‘Standing ovation’ –
Forster came off his line to narrow the angle, but the 25-year-old Salah’s left-foot finish was as clinical as his first goal and guided it past the England goalkeeper and into the net.
Southampton’s best chance of the half came a minute before the break when Nathan Redmond curled a free-kick from a good position just wide of the post.
The two sides had met four times last season –- two goalless draws in the Premier League and two 1-0 wins for Southampton in the League Cup.
Klopp’s men began the second half with a swagger, though, and almost increased their lead with chances for Brazilian duo Coutinho and Firmino.
An inevitable third goal came eight minutes after the hour. The influential Sadio Mane found Firmino, who managed an angled shot despite little space to manoeuvre.
Forster parried the ball and Coutinho nipped in ahead of a flat-footed Steven Davis to stroke the rebound home.
Fowler is only Liverpool player to score a hat-trick against Southampton -– doing so in both 1993 and 1999 -– and had Liverpool not had a Champions League fixture against Sevilla on Tuesday then Salah might have matched his achievement.
With one eye on that match Klopp substituted Salah — who received a standing ovation — for midfielder James Milner with 10 minutes left.
There was still time for Firmino to flash a shot past the post and fire over the crossbar from distance as Liverpool coasted to the final whistle.
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