LONDON: Ever onwards: Liverpool are cruising on. A 2-0 home victory over Manchester United was their 39th unbeaten league game in a row and their 30th successive victory, a run interrupted only by a 1-1 draw away to United in October.
Only Arsenal and Chelsea have recorded longer undefeated sequences (49 and 40 matches respectively).
But manager Jurgen Klopp’s men are beginning to look a little tired. By mid-May they be glad that once they held a 16-point lead. United, with the assistance of a little luck in the first half, did not make it easy and succumbed only to an early goal from Virgil van Dijk and a late one from Mo Salah.
It was Klopp’s 150th victory in the job.
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had goaded Liverpool ahead of the game by rejecting suggestions that the achievements of Klopp’s team this season had established themselves as the best outfit in Premier League history.
Solskjaer said that Liverpool and Klopp would need to match the record of Sir Alex Feguson’s United dynasty before justifying such boasts. Ferguson led United to 13 Premier titles and 15 other major trophies and Solskjaer added: “You have to do it again and again and again.
“Liverpool are having a decent season but to get called a great team? Let’s see when the season has finished.”
United walked out at Anfield as the only team who had taken points off Liverpool in a 1-1 draw last October at Old Trafford. The return fixture saw Liverpool missing injured James Milner, Dejan Lovren and Naby Keita while United were without defender Marcos Rojo and midfielders Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay.
The omens for Liverpool at kickoff were perfect. United’s top scorer Marcus Rashford had failed a late fitness test on a back injury and second-placed Leicester had lost 2-1 at Burnley after leading 1:0 at half-time. Even better, Van Dijk headed Liverpool in front in the 14th minute.
The Dutchman rose above new United captain Harry Maguire to head home a right-wing corner from Trent Alexander-Arnold. This was 14th goal this season which Liverpool had developed from a set piece.
Ten more minutes and it could have been 2:0. De Gea jumped for a high ball with Van Dijk and dropped the ball, under pressure. Roberto Firmino shot the loose ball into the net only for referee Craig Pawson to disallow the goal. VAR advice to Pawson was that Van Dijk had not been attempting to play the ball.
Still, United were living dangerously. Minutes later Firmino, who had not scored in the league at Anfield this season, scooped a shot just wide after a right-wing raid.
United had been tactically disciplined in the opening stages of the game, switching from three at the back when in possession to a five-man wall when Liverpool attacked. But now they began to look ragged and only an offside flag denied Liverpool yet another goal. This time Ginio Wijnaldum was the unlucky man.
Then De Gea stuck out his right foot to deny Sadio Mane on the counter-attack. If Liverpool really had been leading by three goals at the interval United could not have complained.
Liverpool attacked the Kop in the second half in fervent pursuit of the second goal. Salah missed from eight metres, Mane shot over the bar and wasted a counter-attacking chance while De Gea pushed a drive from Jordan Henderson on to a post.
United, encouraged, began to venture forward. Twice midfielder Fred test Alisson while Antony Martial shot too high. It was a wake-up call for Liverpool. Klopp, in pursuit of something different, brought on Adam Lallana in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Still they had to wait until almost the last second of stoppage time before Salah ran away for goal No2.