No slip-up this time: Liverpool stays top of Premier League
Liverpool didn’t slip up this time.
A 2-0 win over Chelsea — sealed by a stunning long-range goal by Mohamed Salah — preserved Liverpool’s two-point lead in the Premier League over Manchester City, which beat Crystal Palace 3-1 earlier Sunday.
The victory also meant the Reds partially avenged a memorable 2-0 loss to Chelsea at Anfield near the end of the 2013-14 season that ultimately cost them the title. That defeat was sparked by a slip by Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard that let in Demba Ba to score the first goal, and Chelsea’s visiting fans reminded the home supporters about that moment throughout the game on Sunday.
“We knew that everything was going to be different today,” Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk said.
Liverpool’s goals came in a 142-second spell at the start of the second half. Sadio Mane’s header put the home team ahead in the 51st, before Salah cut in from the right and arrowed in a 25-yard (meter) shot into the far corner.
City, which has a game in hand over Liverpool, had put the pressure on with a dominant display at Selhurst Park against a team that has caused the champions problems in recent meetings.
Raheem Sterling recovered from a glaring early miss to score twice and put City 2-0 ahead, Luka Milivojevic responded for Palace in the 81st, before Gabriel Jesus sealed a ninth straight league win for City with a 90th-minute goal.
City has the harder run-in, with games still to come against Tottenham and Manchester United, but will retain the title with five straight victories to close the season.
“The Premier League position is in our hands,” City manager Pep Guardiola said, “and we want to win all the games.”
Liverpool’s remaining matches are against Cardiff, Huddersfield, Newcastle and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“We expect them to win all their games so we just need to get as many points as possible,” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said, “and if we’re champions then great, but if not, it is still a really good football team.”
THE YOGA MAN
Salah won the FIFA Puskas Award for the goal of the 2017-18 season, courtesy of his solo strike in the Merseyside derby at Anfield.
He might end up keeping the title.
With one of the great goals seen at Anfield, Salah received Van Dijk’s long ball from the back, cut inside off the right wing, and sent a diagonal shot into the top corner from 25 yards (meters). He celebrated in front of The Kop by standing on one foot in a yoga pose.
“I’m a yoga man,” Salah said with a smile.
Klopp described the goal as “world class” because of “the control, the first touch, going inside, the movement to give him a little bit of space, and then I was 100% convinced ... a fantastic goal.”
Chelsea had its chances at 2-0 down, with Eden Hazard hitting the post and then mis-hitting a shot from close range straight at goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
Maurizio Sarri’s team stayed in fourth place in a tight race for a top-four finish and Champions League qualification, but could get overtaken if Arsenal beats Watford on Monday.
PRAISING DE BRUYNE
City has remained in title contention despite its best player last season — Kevin De Bruyne — missing much of the last eight months because of three separate injuries.
The Belgium midfielder is back to full fitness and one pass against Palace highlighted the impact he can have on City for the run-in.
His perfectly weighted through-ball sent in Sterling for the opening goal in the 15th minute, and drew praise from Guardiola.
“He has the ability and vision to see passes that other human beings are not able to watch,” Guardiola said.
De Bruyne finished the game with two assists after setting up Jesus for the third goal after a surging forward run on a counterattack. They were his first assists of his injury-plagued season, after making 16 in the 2017-18 campaign.
The game came in the middle of a two-legged Champions League quarterfinal against Tottenham, which won the first match 1-0. City plays Tottenham next in the league, too, on Saturday.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80