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Liverpool came through a high-octane tussle with old rivals Manchester United to win 2-0 at Anfield and move 16 points clear at the top of the table on Sunday, sparking a chorus of “we are going to win the league” from their now expectant fans.
Van Dijk opened the scoring on 14 minutes, leaping above left-back Brandon Williams to deliver a thumping header past
Jurgen Klopp’s side, chasing their maiden title in the Premier League era and first in the top flight in 30 years, took a 14th-minute lead from a Virgil van Dijk header but had to wait until stoppage time to put the game to bed through Mohamed Salah.
With a game in hand on second-placed Manchester City, Liverpool’s grip on the title race tightened and while Klopp was not about to echo the euphoric sentiments of the club’s jubilant fans, he was upbeat about his team’s display.
“It’s a big relief, I was really happy with 85-90% of the game, we were brilliant. We dominated the game, especially in the first half. The energy they put on the pitch was incredible,” said the German, whose side have dropped just two points in 22 games.
For United, who battled hard but were outclassed in all departments, it was another reminder of just how much work is ahead of them if they are to get back to being in contention for titles.
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suffered another blow to his hopes of qualifying for the Champions League with the news that his top scorer Marcus Rashford was not only out for the trip to Anfield but could face several weeks on the sidelines with a back injury.
United are in fifth place in the league, five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, and while no-one could question the commitment of Solskjaer’s players it is clear he needs some immediate transfer reinforcements.
“The players gave us everything. Today we hung on a bit at the start of the second half, but the last 25-30 minutes we pressed them and pushed them back. I’m disappointed with conceding from a corner and with the last kick – but very many positives,” he said.
After a promising start from the visitors, Van Dijk put Liverpool ahead with a firm header after he was poorly marked by United, who allowed him to rise and nod in a Trent Alexander-Arnold corner.
United’s attacking forages were rare but they caused some anxiety for Klopp when Andreas Pereira slid in but could not make contact with a low ball across the face of the goal from Aaron Wan Bissaka.
Yet after the break, Liverpool looked determined to put the outcome beyond doubt.
Salah missed a glorious chance from close range just after the interval during an intense period of pressure from the home side, in which Jordan Henderson also hit the post.
United survived that blitz and clawed their way back into the game and could even have snatched an equaliser but Anthony Martial blasted high and wide in the 59th minute.
Solskjaer’s side applied some late pressure but were caught on the counter-attack in the final moments when, with all United players forward, Liverpool keeper Alisson Becker launched a long ball for Salah who raced clear before slotting home and settling Anfield’s nerves.
“It’s special. We’re enjoying our football. You have to stay hungry and keep wanting more,” said Henderson, who looks well set to be raising another piece of silverware at the end of this campaign after lifting the Champions League trophy last season.