Liverpool beat Baggies but just miss top spot
Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho scored a pair of crackers to give Liverpool a 2-1 win over West Brom on Saturday but Gareth McAuley denied them a place at the top of the Premier League.
The impressive Merseysiders needed to win by at least two goals at Anfield if they were to climb to the summit of English football for the first time since May 2014.
They were on course until nine minutes from time when McAuley volleyed in from close range for West Brom following a Chris Brunt corner that Craig Dawson had touched into his path.
The result meant Liverpool moved up into second place, with Arsenal just ahead on goal difference.
However, Manchester City will regain top spot if they avoid defeat against Southampton on Sunday.
Liverpool’s win at least allowed manager Jurgen Klopp to mark the first anniversary of his maiden game in charge of the Reds with a victory.
The colourful German manager’s side were 2-0 up inside 35 minutes thanks to two goals of high quality.
Liverpool went ahead in the 21st minute when Emre Can’s pass sent Roberto Firmino into the West Brom area and his accurate far-post cross was controlled by Mane, who finished confidently for his fourth goal of the season.
If that was good the second goal was even better.
West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster’s clearance struck team-mate Darren Fletcher and gifted the ball to Mane and the goalscorer found Coutinho.
The Brazilian still had plenty of work to do, but a superb dummy left defenders Dawson and McAuley on their backsides before Coutinho drove an unstoppable, low shot in at the near post.
Liverpool’s dominance had been complete in that opening period, apart from a mistake which gifted the ball to Salomon Rondon for a counter-attack which ended when Joel Matip effectively closed down Matt Phillips.
– Damage limitation –
Adam Lallana, recalled at the expense of Daniel Sturridge, saw a dangerous cross well defended by Jonas Olsson and Allan Nyom survived a penalty appeal after contact with Mane.
Three minutes before the opening goal, the busy Jordan Henderson whipped in a first-time cross from the right which was met by James Milner, whose powerful header soared over the crossbar.
Then, searching for a second goal that would take them top for the first time since late in that ill-fated 2014 title bid, Liverpool pressed on, Can teeing up Lallana, who pivoted nicely and lobbed the ball just over.
West Brom manager Tony Pulis, whose team had only conceded one first-half goal all season prior to their Anfield visit, made his feelings known with one half-time substitution and a second just five minutes after the break as damage limitation became the order of the day.
But his changes had no impact on the game as a rampant Liverpool pushed ahead, McAuley blocking an early shot from Coutinho and Foster showing his speed of thought to deny Firmino as he bore down on goal.
Coutinho’s excellent 58th minute free-kick found the head of Dejan Lovren, whose goal-bound effort drew a superb one-handed save from Foster as the ball flew towards the top right-hand corner.
Olsson’s clearance then presented the ball to Can but his 25-yard strike rose over. Coutinho’s superb pass then found Can, whose shot from far closer range was charged down bravely by Olsson.
Milner’s low strike was saved at the second attempt by Foster before Nacer Chadli wasted a rare Albion opening, lifting a shot high and wide after a half-cleared corner.
Following the disappointment of conceding a goal, Liverpool responded as they sought the necessary two-goal advantage that would take them top, with Firmino twice denied by impressive saves from Foster.