BIRMINGHAM: Liverpool are still “chasing like mad” after Manchester City at the top of the Premier League, said Jurgen Klopp after coming from a goal down to beat Aston Villa 2-1 on Tuesday.
The top two are now level on 86 points, but City stay top on goal difference and have a game in hand.
Liverpool could ill-afford another slip up after being held 1-1 at home by Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend and got off to the worst possible start when Douglas Luiz fired Villa in front after three minutes.
But Joel Matip quickly levelled and Sadio Mane’s fine header 25 minutes from time kept the Reds in contention for a historic quadruple of trophies.
“We are still chasing like mad,” said Klopp. “We just know we have to win, that didn’t change and now we have to recover to play the FA Cup final. There is no mercy.”
However, victory came at a cost as Fabinho limped off with a muscle injury that makes him a major doubt for both Saturday’s FA Cup final and the Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 28.
“He felt a muscle, not too much,” added Klopp. “He is quite positive but I’m not sure what I can make of that to be honest.”
With one eye on Wembley, Klopp rolled the dice with his team selection as Mohamed Salah and Thiago Alcantara were left on the bench, while there was no place in the squad for Andy Robertson.
The visitors looked like a much-changed side as Villa sprang out of the traps and caught them cold.
Alisson Becker had already denied Ollie Watkins by the time Steven Gerrard’s men took the lead on three minutes.
Luiz’s header was parried by Alisson, but only back into the path of his Brazilian international team-mate to hammer the rebound high into the net, with defenders Kostas Tsimikas and Matip both prostrate.
Villa won this fixture 7-2 last season, but Liverpool this time bounced straight back from the early blow of conceding.
The hosts did not deal with a free-kick into the box and the ball eventually broke for Virgil van Dijk to square for his centre-back partner Matip to apply the finishing touch.
Chances continued to come at both ends in a frantic first half.
Mane headed inches wide and Naby Keita missed his kick with the goal gaping for Liverpool, while, at the other end, Danny Ings just failed to keep his header down from Lucas Digne’s inviting cross.
Liverpool’s heavy schedule began to show physically when Fabinho limped off with a hamstring injury midway through the first half.
However, Liverpool went through the gears in the second period to show the gulf in class between the sides.
“We’ve got to take the big moments we created in the game,” said Gerrard. “I’ m frustrated we didn’t score more than once. We were ambitious, brave and courageous against one of the best teams in the world.”
Luis Diaz’s arrival in January has played a huge part in keeping Klopp’s men in contention for four trophies.
The Colombian created the winner as he teased Tyrone Mings before delivering a pinpoint cross for Mane to head in his 22nd goal of the season.
There were still nervy moments for Liverpool to see out in the final quarter as Villa sought to expose their high line.
Twice Ings failed to capitalise when played through on goal before being flagged offside when he did finally put the ball in the net.
But Liverpool held on and will hope Gerrard can finally come to their rescue in a title race.
Gerrard famously never won a league title during his decorated playing career at Anfield, but will take Villa to face City at the Etihad on the final day of the season.
“It was always going to be tough and we have to keep going. We’re in the same position as we were before the game. It was a big game and another three points,” Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson told Sky Sports.
“We concentrate on what we need to do. It is another big game at the weekend, the FA Cup final and we have to recover for that. It is out of our control [the title race], we do not need to waste energy on that.”
Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2022