HAPPY DAYS: Mo Salah (left) celebrates with team mates
MO SALAH’S superb strike provided the perfect riposte to Manchester City’s victory at Crystal Palace and ensured Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League.
The Reds have made a habit of scoring late winners this term but here there was no need as the Egyptian’s effort came in the 53rd minute – just two after Sadio Mane’s header gave Jurgen Klopp’s side the lead. Anfield was in raptures.
The nerves that accompanied news of City’s earlier success dispelled through two acts of craft and precision on the weekend when the club remembered the 96 victims of the Hillsborough Disaster on its 30th anniversary.
After an impeccably observed minute’s silence came a tense first half of few chances.
The incessant talk of the team’s ‘bottle’ in recent weeks might have intensified had the Reds not emerged for the second half with such energy and purpose.
Memories of these teams’ fateful meeting on this ground in 2014 inevitably dominated the build-up, but this Liverpool side have a greater resilience and tactical nous than that earlier incarnation.
Mane’s goal, his 18th of this league campaign, felt as if it had been coming. Jordan Henderson found the head of his Senegalese teammate, who nodded the ball beyond Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Henderson has taken a more advanced role in recent outings and has been quietly decisive in this title race. Another assist here, plus it was the Liverpool captain who set Salah free for his goal at Southampton last weekend.
Liverpool’s lead was doubled when Salah first controlled Virgil Van Dijk’s pass on the right, then fended off the attentions of Emerson before cutting inside to rifle a shot into the top corner from a full 25 yards. It was an emphatic way to end a run of five matches without a goal at Anfield for the Egyptian. He now has 19 Premier League goals this season.
At two goals behind Chelsea suddenly sprang to life. Gonzalo Higuain replaced the diffident Ruben Loftus-Cheek and it freed Eden Hazard to menace Liverpool from a deeper position.
The next ten minutes belonged to Chelsea as spell Hazard struck the post when it was probably easier to score and the Belgian saw another point blank effort blocked by Alisson.
The visitors might have enjoyed a share of the spoils on a different day. Maurizio Sarri made six team changes following Chelsea’s Thursday night European excursions. Klopp, whose team had two extra days’ rest, made just two.
Klopp introduced Georginio Wijnaldum for his 100th Reds appearance in place of Naby Keita as he sought to plug the gaps that had appeared in Liverpool’s midfield.
It halted Chelsea’s ascendency and Higuain was starved of service.
Late on Andy Robertson slipped and there were murmurs across Anfield of Steven Gerrard’s infamous stumble back in 2014.
Yet it came to nothing and Liverpool overcame what most observers saw as their stiffest remaining test in the league.