A narrow 1-0 defeat to Chelsea means the Blues can still overtake Jürgen Klopp’s side…
Liverpool failed to confirm Champions League qualification on Sunday, going down 1-0 at outgoing Premier League champions Chelsea.
The defeat means the third-placed Reds, who have collected just two points from their past three fixtures, can still be overtaken by both Antonio Conte’s men and fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
Ahead of the final day of the domestic season next weekend, the London based duo both have a game in hand to play on Wednesday night.
A victory for Spurs over Newcastle United will see them leapfrog Liverpool, while three points for Chelsea against Huddersfield Town will put them level on 72 points with the Merseysiders.
Fortunately, Jürgen Klopp’s side remain in control of their own fate versus the Blues, courtesy of a far superior goal difference (+42 to +27), meaning victory over Brighton & Hove Albion at Anfield next Sunday will still guarantee a coveted top four finish.
Such permutations would have been made redundant had Liverpool claimed a point at Stamford Bridge, and in a tight game of few clear-cut chances, they probably merited one overall despite being way below their best.
The visitors created the better of the openings early on with both Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané forcing good stops from Thibaut Courtois.
In between a miscommunication between Olivier Giroud and Tiémoué Bakayoko meant the hosts’ best opportunity went begging.
As he had in midweek, Mané was proving the main threat for Liverpool and the Senegalese wideman tested Courtois twice more in quick succession around the half-hour mark.
The visitors fell behind moments later though when Giroud rose above Dejan Lovren to head home a Victor Moses cross against the run of play.
It could have been 2-0 soon afterwards when Cesc Fàbregas drifted in behind Liverpool’s defence, but the Spaniard’s fierce cross-cum-shot somehow eluded everyone and everything.
The Blues again looked likely to extend their lead at the start of the second half during a positive spell that included a disallowed Antonio Rüdiger goal (for offside).
Eden Hazard was a growing influence at this point and Liverpool’s rearguard were severely stretched by a couple of mazy runs by the Belgium international.
Klopp’s team had a good spell of possession and territory around the hour mark but without overly testing Courtois.
In addition to the hosts defending well, a number of key men in red, including Mohamed Salah, who was earlier booked for diving, were struggling to get into the game.
The newly crowned PFA and FWA Player of the Year remains one goal shy of setting a new 38-game Premier League scoring record (currently on 31, level with Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez).
The Merseysiders finally began to threaten in the final 15 minutes, following a couple of positive substitutions, although they were almost undone by a stunning volley from Marcos Alonso.
Former Chelsea forward Dominic Solanke headed a couple of chances, the second of which was presentable, over in the closing stages, but an equaliser wasn’t to materialise.
Klopp, speaking at his post-match press conference, downplayed the impact reaching the Champions League final in midweek had had on his side’s performance.
“I didn’t think Chelsea looked much fresher than we did,“ remarked the German. “It is an intense period and if you want to be successful the decisions are made in the last part of the season…
“I am really proud of the boys to be honest; ‘proud’ is the word because, again, they really invested everything. There is one moment I am really disappointed, not happy, angry with and it was the goal. Clearly, we should not concede another goal like this.
“It was clear, the plan – cut back, cross, soft cross and Giroud is there. It was clear we had to avoid these situations and it feels like we only had to avoid it once more in the game and then we would have the draw, which would feel completely different. With the rest, I am absolutely fine.
“I know what the boys invested. We played football, we had to play, we had to play around them, we were in the half-spaces, we were between the lines, we had opportunities to shoot, we had opportunities to cross, we were in the six-yard box, we were everywhere.
“Of course, we have played better games this season, but in our situation against Chelsea, who are obviously a world-class team, it’s quite a challenge to do it much better than we did today, so result-wise, a little bit unlucky.”
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