Senegalese star Sadio Mane scored the winner in Liverpool’s defeat of a valiant Aston Villa.
According to Liverpool’s own Steven Gerrard, Villa displayed an opposition performance Jurgen Klopp could fully approve of.
Aston Villa were enterprising, they were ambitious, they were open – and they were beaten.
Sadio Mane was the Liverpool hero with the winner that keeps them in the title hunt Credit: AP
The Senegalese star flicked a header past Emiliano Martinez Credit: Reuters
The Liverpool boss had sniffily complained about Antonio Conte’s defensive tactics when Tottenham inflicted a damaging draw on his title-chasers at Anfield on Saturday night.
But this wild encounter, played at a pulsating tempo at a tempestuous Villa Park, was right up Klopp’s street.
And so Liverpool – visibly flagging in their unlikely pursuit of a quadruple – continue to apply pressure to Manchester City.
After Sadio Mane’s cute headed winner, Pep Guardiola’s champions still need seven points from their remaining three games – starting at Wolves tomorrow – if they are to claim a fourth title in five seasons.
Klopp made five changes to his starting line-up – resting Mo Salah, Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara and Andy Robertson all missing from his obvious first-choice line-up – and lost Fabinho to an early hamstring injury.
And yet, despite going behind to a Douglas Luiz strike after just three minutes, Liverpool swiftly levelled through Joel Matip and edged a contest which fizzed and crackled and to’d and fro’d throughout.
Gerrard’s Villa may still have a major part to play in this title race, as they go to the Etihad on the final day of the season – and they should give City a decent match on the evidence of this.
The effects of challenging on every front are clearly showing on Liverpool. They were ragged and edgy at times. They snatched at passes. They gifted possession. They passed up chances.
Luiz found himself well forward at just the right time.
Yet that monstrous mentality Klopp always talks about got them across the line again.
They may end up with 92 points and as runners-up. Should they add the FA Cup in Saturday’s final against Chelsea, to the Carabao Cup they have already won, they will head into the Champions League Final against Real Madrid with an outstanding domestic campaign behind them, whether or not City slip up.
Following a rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone in the press box – only kidding, Pep – Villa got off to an absolute flyer.
There was controversy about their early opener, though, as Ollie Watkins was offside when he received a long diagonal pass from Tyrone Mings.
Liverpool celebrated a solid victory that puts the pressure back on Man City.
And while Alisson saved Watkins’ effort, Liverpool did not fully clear and Villa scored from what was presumably deemed the next phase of play.
Lucas Digne’s cross was headed down by Luiz and Alisson couldn’t hold his effort, allowing his fellow Brazilian to snap up the rebound to mark his 100th Premier League appearance with a flourish.
Klopp was doing his nut on the touchline about the earlier offside but within three minutes, his team were level.
Trent Alexander-Arnold delivered a free-kick from the right, Mings trod on the ball and Diogo Jota fed Van Dijk, who clattered in to two defenders in the process.
Van Dijk’s angled shot was saved by Emiliano Martinez but was stabbed home by Matip.
There was a real urgency about Liverpool now, as they attacked in waves and Sadio Mane headed narrowly wide from a Kostas Tsimikas centre.
Alisson was having one of his eccentric nights and while sweeper-keeping outside his box, he had a wonky pass intercepted by Watkins, managing to make a recovering tackle – but his jitters gleefully seized upon by the Villa fans.
Then the Liverpool keeper came for a John McGinn centre and was left stranded as Danny Ings bulleted a header just wide.
Fabinho was struggling after a heavy early challenge and Villa were targeting him, Philippe Coutinho robbing him and almost releasing Ings.
Steven Gerrard was up against his beloved Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp.
The Brazilian midfielder was then replaced by Henderson and Liverpool soon had the ball on the net through Mane, though Luis Diaz was clearly offside before his final pass to the Senegalese.
Coutinho thundered a curling shot just over and then Naby Keita miskicked from eight yards as the contest veered one way and the other.
Ref John Moss was enraging the locals by handing Liverpool a series of questionable free-kicks and Curtis Jones twice went close for Klopp’s men before the break.
It continued to fizz and crackle early in the second-half, Alexander-Arnold curling a free-kick wide then Tsimikas robbing Watkins with a last-ditcher as Villa threatened.
But Liverpool were in front on 65 minutes when Luiz fell victim of some tigerish pressing and Thiago Alcantara, recently introduced as a sub, picked out Diaz, who centred right-footed from the left, allowing Mane to sneak in and guide a header past Martinez.
It was Mane’s eighth goal since the start of April and was greeted with a pungent red pyro from the away section.
Watkins released Ings but his first touch was poor and Alisson was able to advance and smother.
Ings later produced a more convincing effort which forced a full-stretch save from Alisson and Villa’s former Liverpool striker then rammed into the net from an angle before an offside flag caught the Holte End’s roars mid-throat.
The hosts kept on threatening but Liverpool walk on. Now it’s over to City, just up the road at Molineux, for the next instalment in this relentless race.