Mane strikes as Liverpool overcome Norwich to open up 25-point lead
Sadio Mane struck as Liverpool overcame Storm Dennis and feisty basement club Norwich to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League table to 25 points on Saturday.
Jurgen Klopp’s runaway league leaders were short of their fluent best during their 1-0 victory but returned immediately to winning ways after their winter break.
They are galloping towards their first league title for 30 years and can also dream of a treble to match Manchester United’s achievement in 1999.
The result leaves Daniel Farke’s Norwich rooted to the bottom of the table, six points behind 19th-placed Watford and they look set for an immediate return to the Championship despite their battling performance.
Klopp brought back midfielder Naby Keita for his first start in a Premier League match since December and Mane was on the bench as Liverpool started with confidence.
The champions-elect bossed possession in the early stages without creating many clear-cut openings but Norwich managed some brief spells of attractive passing football themselves.
Liverpool’s silky forward Roberto Firmino was particularly impressive, producing an exquisite piece of skill to control a long Jordan Henderson pass before the ball was stolen off his toes as he shaped to shoot.
But despite a few hairy moments, Farke’s men kept Liverpool quiet and came close to snatching the lead themselves.
Lukas Rupp got in behind the Liverpool defence and controlled a long ball over the top. He opted to pass to his left to Teemu Pukki but Alisson Becker produced a superb save, clawing the ball away at the feet of the Finnish striker.
– Mane breaks deadlock –
Liverpool were quickly on top again in the second half, keeping Norwich at arm’s length, but struggled to create clear chances until Keita tested Tim Krul from distance in the 58th minute.
The Anfield giants laid siege to the Norwich goal but frustration mounted as the home side somehow kept the score at 0-0.
Moments later Keita should have done better when he reacted quickly to a rebound off Krul but the goalkeeper dived to his right to deny the Guinea international.
Alexander Tettey almost caught Becker out on a rare Norwich foray into the Liverpool half, thundering a shot against the near post as the home crowd roared their team on.
But just when it seemed Norwich could become just the second team this season after Manchester United to deny Liverpool all three points, Mane broke the deadlock.
The second-half substitute controlled a long ball from Henderson with his right foot in the 78th minute before lashing home with his left.
Pukki had a late chance to equalise but shot straight at Alisson as Liverpool held on for their 25th win in 26 Premier League matches.
Defending champions Manchester City, reeling from a European ban for the next two seasons for breaching fair play rules, are in second place in the table but have no chance of winning a third straight title.
European champions Liverpool, who play Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Tuesday and are through to the FA Cup fifth round, now have a chance to win the three biggest trophies on offer.