LIVERPOOL: Five years ago Chelsea won at Anfield to upset Liverpool’s dreams of a first league championship since 1990. That was the game and title race effectively decided after an unlucky slip by captain Steven Gerrard gave away the first goal.
Only Jordan Henderson of the current squad was involved in that game and Gerrard’s successor as captain played a key role in the 2-0 victory over Chelsea which may help to make amends.
Henderson created the goal for Sadio Mane which broke Chelsea’s resistance early in the second half and softened up the Blues for a sensational further goal from Mo Salah. Liverpool thus lead the table with four games remaining.
Victory was essential. It kept Liverpool two points ahead of Manchester City in the Premier title shootout but they have played a game more and have a much inferior goal difference.
The usual big-match Anfield emotions were raised further than ever by pre-match memorial tributes to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 – 30 years ago on Monday – and to former European Cup-winning defender Tommy Smith.
Then it was back to the here and now and Jurgen Klopp’s 200th match as Liverpool manager. They dominated the opening exchanges which saw Kepa save well from Chelsea old boy Mo Salah at one end. At the other end, Eden Hazard and Callum Hudson-Odoi prowled eagerly counter-attacking openings.
Mane went close before Chelsea’s resistance was hampered by the loss of Antonio Rudiger. Shortly before half-time he had to be replaced after the recurrence of an injury to his left knee which he had suffered in a clash with the Senegalese forward.
Klopp had said that Liverpool would need to “use the power of Anfield” and the nreakthrough came five minutes into the second half. Henderson found space on the right and chipped to the far post for Mane to head home his 19th league goal. That tally was matched 90 seconds later by Salah with his own spectacular angled strike from 25 metres.
Hazard hit a post and was foiled then by Alisson as Chelsea struggled to regain a foothold in the game . . . in vain.
City win, too . . .
Earlier City won their 27th league game by 3-1 at Crystal Palace. Raheem Sterling missed an easy early chance but made amends with City’s first goal on an assist from Kevin de Bruyne. It was the 18th time that City had scored within the first 15 minutes. Oddly it was de Bruyne’s first Premier assist since the end of last season.
Leroy Sane forced a fine save from Palace’s Spanish goalkeeper Vicente Guaita and started a move which saw de Bruyne go close. Inbetween de Bruyne and Aguero exchange angry words after the striker refused to chase down a pass from the Belgian.
Sterling struck again midway through the second half after David Silva crossed to the far post. The England forward’s 17th goal in the league had apparently decided the game. Silva was immediately substituted with the Tottenham return in mind. He was duly followed for an early rest by Aguero and Sane.
Palace pulled one goal back with a free kick from captain Luka Milivojevic. This only jerked City awake and Gabriel Jesus scored in the final minute. ‘All’ they must do now is win all their remaining five games to hold on to their title.
Guardiola said: “In this season and last season we’ve had 83 points with five games left. This pressure is incredible.”