LONDON • Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp backed Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino's cases for Player of the Year honours after they each bagged a goal and an assist to ensure an easy 2-0 Premier League win for the Reds at Southampton on Sunday.
Salah teed up Firmino to open the scoring with his 20th goal of the season after just six minutes, before the Brazilian returned the favour with a stunning back-heeled pass for Salah to slot home just before half-time.
Tottenham's Harry Kane and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero furthered their cases to win the golden boot by downing Arsenal and Leicester respectively on Saturday.
But Salah is now just one behind Kane and has one more than the Aguero with 22 league goals in a prolific first season at Anfield.
"I really think Aguero and Kane and a few others are really good players as well, but our boys are important for us," said Klopp.
"I love their skills and attitude, but their work rate is outstanding.
"Both get the profit from our style of play. We play in the areas they like to have the balls, but in this strong league you cannot be third without fantastic players."
Much of the attention before kick-off at St Mary's was focused on Virgil van Dijk's return just weeks after he became the world's most expensive defender in a £75 million (S$137.8 million) move.
The Dutchman could not have wished for a more straightfoward 90 minutes as he shrugged off the boos of the home fans to record a first clean sheet and Premier League win in a Liverpool shirt.
"He did really well," added Klopp. "He coped with the situation fantastic. We had a little talk before the game but I didn't want to make him nervous if he isn't nervous (and) obviously he wasn't.
"I understand everything in football. The crowd is there to make life difficult but I don't think it was too difficult for him."
Van Dijk claimed that he enjoyed playing the pantomime villain on his return to Southampton.
"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," he said.
Victory saw Liverpool leapfrog Tottenham back into third and close to within two points of Manchester United in second after Jose Mourinho's men were shocked 1-0 at Newcastle earlier on Sunday.