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Liverpool stroll back to the top

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Fulltimeresult.com

The expectation is that this Premier League title race will go down to the wire, to the final moment, but Liverpool ended this fixture early to go back to the top of the table.

It took just 15 seconds to score, through Naby Keita, and it was their fastest ever goal in the Premier League. After that it was only a question of by how many they could reduce Manchester City’s advantage in goal difference.

In the end they won by five goals, leaving City three ahead of them. Will that be a factor come the final day? Liverpool are top by two points, having played this game more, and have two matches left, with attention now turning to Turf Moor on Sunday to see whether City can once again go back in front in this extraordinary high-quality, unprecedented contest of nip and tuck.

Remarkably this is the 29th time the lead has changed hands this season – a post-war record in the English top-flight. Will it soon be 30? Burnley will surely provide a sterner test than Huddersfield did to Liverpool with this result confirming the inevitable. They will finish bottom.

Given the tension and drama that has enveloped Anfield at times this was a relatively easy work-out in front of the club’s principal owner, John W Henry, as Mohamed Salah went clear on 21 goals, one ahead of team-mate Sadio Mane, in the contest for the league’s golden boot.

Both scored twice with Mane going close to claiming a hat-trick of headers, only to strike the goal-frame. It is only the fourth time in the Premier League that one club has two players with 20 goals or more in a single season.

The only brief alarm came when Virgil Van Dijk went down injured, shaking his head, after Steve Mounie – another big guy – painfully trod on his foot. There was an anxious hush before the defender carried on. As Van Dijk got back to his feet it was cheered as raucously as the goals.

The loudest ovation, though, came with the return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a year and two days after he suffered multiple knee ligament damage in the Champions League semi-final against Roma.

The midfielder came on as a second-half substitute and looked good, sharp and even went close to scoring after a surging run, only for his low shot to be poked away by goalkeeper Jonas Lossl with an outstretched leg.

English Premier League

Team P W D L GD Pts
1 Liverpool 36 28 7 1 64 91
2 Manchester City 35 29 2 4 67 89
3 Tottenham Hotspur 35 23 1 11 30 70
4 Chelsea 35 20 7 8 21 67
5 Arsenal 35 20 6 9 23 66
6 Manchester United 35 19 7 9 13 64
7 Wolverhampton Wanderers 35 14 9 12 1 51
8 Watford 35 14 8 13 0 50
9 Everton 35 14 7 14 6 49
10 Leicester City 35 14 6 15 1 48
11 West Ham United 35 12 7 16 -10 43
12 Crystal Palace 35 12 6 17 -5 42
13 Newcastle United 35 11 8 16 -9 41
14 Bournemouth 35 12 5 18 -13 41
15 Burnley 35 11 7 17 -18 40
16 Southampton 35 9 10 16 -17 37
17 Brighton and Hove Albion 35 9 7 19 -22 34
18 Cardiff City 35 9 4 22 -35 31
19 Fulham 35 6 5 24 -43 23
20 Huddersfield Town 36 3 5 28 -54 14

If that had gone in the roof would have come off – with the danger of that happening anyway, it seemed, as Storm Hanna whipped up the wind and the rain fell.

But whatever happens now Liverpool are storming towards the end of this season. The statistics are crazy. They have won 10 games in a row in all competitions, their best run for 13 years. With those two league games to go they have accrued 91 points, the second-highest total in their history (when converted to three for a win) and only behind the equivalent of 98 points for the 1978-79 season – which was also a 42-game campaign.

And yet they still might lose out to City. It is simply, utterly incredible how these two brilliant teams have gone toe-to-toe and driven up the standards of this Premier League, with Jurgen Klopp again going over to The Kop to fist-pump his acknowledgment at the final whistle after wrapping Oxlade-Chamberlain in a hug.

This fight goes on with, of course, Liverpool still in the Champions League, with the first leg of their semi-final against Barcelona on Wednesday.

That is why Roberto Firmino was not risked, he felt a muscle problem in training, and is in a fight to be fit for that game. Goodness knows what the score here would have been with him.

Instead Daniel Sturridge made his first start of the year and, in truth, appeared off the pace. Nevertheless it was convincing enough with any fear that Huddersfield would be obdurate and difficult to break down – and there was not – emphatically dispelled in the opening minute with Keita’s goal.

It came as Jon Gorenc Stankovic collected a pass from Lossl outside the Huddersfield penalty area and panicked under pressure from Keita, who forced his pass straight to Salah. He played in Keita and, through on goal, the midfielder rolled his shot beyond Lossl and in off his right-hand post.

It was Liverpool’s 100th goal in all competitions this season, but no-one expected it to be their only one on this evening.

The Reds were rampant. Van Dijk’s smart first touch took him away from Mounie and he spread the ball out wide to Andrew Robertson. The left-back weighed up his cross and Mane was allowed to drift between Terence Kongolo and Christopher Schindler – it was shocking defending – to easily plant his header.

On half-time Huddersfield were guilty again as Trent Alexander-Arnold – in a duel with Robertson in providing assists – chipped the ball forward and somehow Salah was allowed to run in from the right wing, as Erik Durm left him, to lift it over the onrushing Lossl. One bounce and the ball was in the net.

All they can do is keep winning, which they did. Now how will City respond on Sunday? It goes on.

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