LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – A scare survived this time, Liverpool is three wins from glory.
“We weren’t at our best,” captain James Milner said after the runaway leader beat Bournemouth 2-1 on Saturday. “But many teams would have crumbled after a couple of poor results.”
Not this side as it moved 25 points clear in the quest to end Liverpool’s 30-year English top-flight title drought.
Unlike last Saturday, when hopes of an unbeaten Premier League campaign were thwarted by Watford, Liverpool did complete a recovery against a team fighting relegation.
Defensive lapses were seized on by Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane as they scored the goals that wiped out Callum Wilson’s early strike to hand Liverpool a top-flight record 22nd straight home win.
“We showed our personality after (going) 1-0 down,” Salah said. “We had to react to that and I think we did well and got the result. We need to keep going for the next three games.”
Three victories to be certain of being champions for the first time in the post-1992 Premier League era.
Whether that will happen in front of their own fans, or any crowd, remains uncertain with nine matches remaining.
The coronavirus outbreak has opened up the prospect of the closing weeks of the season being played in empty stadiums. The first sign of the measures to try to contain the COVID-19 illness came before kick-off at Anfield when the players and match officials did not shake hands, instead walking past each other after lining up on the pitch.
Bournemouth players didn’t mind the close contact to embrace after racing into a shock lead in the ninth minute. When your team has lost the last five league games against Liverpool by an aggregate score of 17-0, it’s worth savoring the chance to celebrate.
It came from a counterattack that was completed in front of the Kop when Wilson pushed past Joe Gomez before passing to Philip Billing. Jefferson Lerma was then played in down the right flank and the ball was squared for Wilson, who had beaten the offside trap.
Liverpool’s protests over the push in the build-up were overlooked by the referee and VAR as the goal was given.
For the fifth successive game, including a Champions League loss at Atletico Madrid and F.A. Cup exit at Chelsea, Liverpool was trailing.
For all the recent frailties in the title push, the world and European champions so often find a way to prevail, remaining unbeaten at home since April 2017.
“We stayed calm,” Milner said. “When you’ve got the boys up front, how clinical they are, you’ve always got a chance.”
They were level by the 25th minute. Jack Simpson, who had replaced injured Bournemouth captain Steve Cook, was trying to play the ball out from the back when he was dispossessed by Mane.
The Senegalese forward picked out Salah, who had time to take a touch around Lerma before netting to take his tally to 20 goals for a third consecutive season.
Liverpool was in front by the 33rd when Lewis Cook lost the ball around the halfway line and Virgil van Dijk sent a defense-splitting pass to Mane, who tucked the ball into the net.
Liverpool was back on top but Bournemouth was never out of the game.
It took Milner, on his first start since January, to keep out the equalizer.
When Ryan Fraser chipped Adrian, who was deputizing in the Liverpool goal for the injured Alisson, the 34-year-old Milner scrambled back to hook the ball off the line.
Bournemouth was saved by the corner of the crossbar and post when Mane curled a shot from distance.
“There’s nothing good in losing football games but it makes you aware of how special it is to win football games,” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said. “That’s what we had in the last 10 days or two weeks when we lost games. So you appreciate it much more.”
And the sweetest feeling could come by dethroning Manchester City at the home of the champions on April 5.
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