LIVERPOOL: Liverpool stretched their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League to 16 points and advantage over Manchester United to 30 as goals from Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah earned a 2-0 win over their historic rivals at Anfield. A 13th straight league win since the sides last met at Old Trafford in October continues Liverpool’s relentless run towards a first league title in 30 years, while United remain five points off the top four in fifth.
Liverpool also have a game in hand to come on closest challengers Manchester City and could have been more comfortable winners after seeing two first half goals ruled out and a host of clear chances go astray. United are the only team to take Premier League points off the European champions this season, but it rarely looked like lightning would strike twice once the hosts went in front on 14 minutes.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s game plan was undone by a simple set-piece as Van Dijk rose highest to power home Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner. The Norwegian had set up with a back five, with Luke Shaw forced to deputise out of position as a third centre-back, and only a great challenge from the former Southampton left-back denied Sadio Mane a certain second as he burst onto Roberto Firmino’s pass. Jurgen Klopp’s men did have the ball in the net twice more before the break, but VAR and the offside flag came to United’s rescue to keep the score down.
Firstly, Firmino’s brilliant strike was ruled out as Van Dijk was penalised for an aerial challenge with David de Gea after a VAR review. Georginio Wijnaldum then slotted past the Spaniard after a brilliant through ball from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the Dutchman had strayed marginally offside.
Shorn of injured top scorer Marcus Rashford, United failed to even muster a shot in anger for the first 40 minutes until Anthony Martial pulled his effort wide of the near post. However, they could easily have been level against the run of play moments later when Andreas Pereira could not stretch to turn home Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s ball across the face of the goal.
At the other end, De Gea had one more key intervention before the break as he saved with his feet from Mane’s driven effort. However, the hosts held out for a seventh consecutive clean sheet in all competitions and took another giant step towards the title as Salah secured the three points with virtually the last kick of the game. The Egyptian was picked out by goalkeeper Alisson Becker and ran from inside his own half before slotting under De Gea.
Earlier, Burnley recovered from a goal down to beat high-flying Leicester City 2-1 at Turf Moor yesterday, ending their four-match losing streak in the Premier League. Sean Dyche’s Clarets failed to score a first-half goal for an 11th successive league game, and their problems worsened when midfielder Harvey Barnes put the visitors ahead with a stunning solo effort in the 33rd minute.
Jack Cork lost the ball in midfield and Burnley-born winger Barnes broke forward, racing goalwards and past Ben Mee before firing home. The hosts responded after the interval with striker Chris Wood scoring the equaliser from a rebound after Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel saved a header from Mee.
Leicester, third in the standings, had an opportunity to reclaim the lead when Mee brought down Barnes in the box but Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope kept out Jamie Vardy’s weak penalty. The turnaround was complete, with 11 minutes remaining, when Ashley Westwood blasted in after a Charlie Taylor cross from the left to ensure Burnley took all three points, lifting them to 14th place in the table, five points above the relegation zone.
“I thought we deserved to win the game but we didn’t take our chances,” said Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers. “A mixture of their keeper making some brilliant saves and our finishing and we somehow lost the game,” he added. Pope, who made some vital saves in the second half, was delighted the team’s losing streak was over. “It’s a massive win for us. The lads worked so hard and the atmosphere was electric. You go on bad runs during the season so to snap them quickly is important,” he said. – Agencies