Liverpool, United Kingdom | AFP | Liverpool fans should be dreaming of a first Premier League title for 30 years, admitted Jurgen Klopp even if the German is taking nothing for granted after opening up a 16-point lead at the top of the table.
Goals early and late from Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah earned a 2-0 victory over Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday and a 13th straight league win since the sides last met at Old Trafford in October.
After Salah galloped clear to score from goalkeeper Alisson Becker’s assist deep into stoppage time, the Liverpool fans broke into a chorus of “we are going to win the league” for the first time this season.
Klopp dismissed any notion that will only ramp up the pressure on his players, but is already focusing on his next challenge away to Wolves on Thursday.
“They are allowed to dream, allowed to sing, as long as they do their job as well in the moment when we play,” said Klopp, who praised the Anfield atmosphere for “carrying” his side as they tired in the closing stages.
“I have no idea whether we will be caught or not, I don’t care.
“First and foremost it’s the Premier League. We play Wolves on Thursday, it’s our next exceptional challenge. I don’t have enough space in my brain to contemplate anything else.”
— Premier League (@premierleague) January 19, 2020
Liverpool also have a game in hand to come on closest challengers Manchester City and the gulf in class between the European champions and United was exposed by the 30-point gap between them in the table, if not the scoreline on the day.
United are the only team to take Premier League points off Klopp’s men 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.
“It didn’t go to plan,” said the Norwegian, whose side remain fifth, five points off the top four.
“There were some disappointing periods because you don’t like to concede goals from set plays.
“We looked strong in the last half an hour, but we didn’t have that quality in the final pass or shot.”
– Man Utd spared –
Liverpool had the ball in the net twice more before half-time, but VAR and the offside flag came to United’s rescue to keep the score down.
Firstly, Roberto 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, who is set to miss at least the next six weeks, United failed to even muster a shot in anger for the first 40 minutes, but they could easily have been level against the run of play 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 Sadio Mane’s driven effort.
United rode their luck even more at the start of the second half as Salah somehow skewed wide from point-blank range before Jordan Henderson smashed a shot off the post.
But Liverpool’s failure to put the game to bed could have cost them when Anthony Martial blazed over United’s best chance of the game after a well-worked one-two with Pereira just before the hour mark.
Just like in the 1-0 win at Tottenham last weekend Liverpool tired in the final 20 minutes.
However, the hosts held out for a seventh consecutive clean sheet in all competitions and took another giant step towards the title when Salah was brilliantly picked out by Allison and kept his composure to slot low under De Gea.