Liverpool fall short in title bid despite winning wild ride against Wolves

Goals from Sadio Mané, Mo Salah and Andy Robertson were not enough for the Reds

Liverpool 3 Wolves 1

Anfield dared to believe in number 20 and the unprecedented quadruple, until a small eruption occurred in the corner of the stadium in the 81st minute. Wolves fans had news of Manchester City’s comeback against Aston Villa and wasted no time announcing Liverpool’s heartbreak.

Jürgen Klopp’s team got the victory that would have seen them crowned Premier League champions but for Ilkay Gündogan’s late winner at the Etihad Stadium. They finished instead with supporters’ chants about running around Paris with the cup, and they will take a repeat of 2019 should the season end with another Champions League triumph against Real Madrid next Saturday, but there was also unmistakable deflation at the end of a day that promised so much only to deliver a tale of what might have been.

Liverpool end the season with the third highest points total in the club’s history, the fourth when converting the 42-game 1978-79 season to three points for a win. That the other three have come in the last four seasons underlines the scale of the task required to challenge or unseat City.

This was a wild ride from the outset. Thousands lined Anfield Road to greet the Liverpool team coach before kick off and the atmosphere crackled as Klopp’s players emerged for the warm-up, more in hope than expectation at that stage. Then Anfield suddenly fell silent when Pedro Neto swept the visitors ahead in only the third minute.

The possibility of Wolves taking points from Liverpool, having lost eight of their previous 13 Premier League games, had barely received a mention in the final day narrative. But the hosts received a rude awakening after switching off at a José Sá goal-kick. Ibrahima Konaté completely misread the flight of the Wolves goalkeeper’s clearance and it sailed through to release Raúl Jiménez down the Liverpool left.

Jiménez glanced across to see Neto sprinting unmarked into the penalty area and centred perfectly for his strike partner to convert past Alisson. The Liverpool goalkeeper was denied a club record-equalling 21st clean sheet of the season in the process, although of course that was the least of his concerns at the time.

Liverpool responded with an energetic, threatening display, albeit while looking fragile in central defence without Virgil van Dijk, who was named on the bench alongside Mohamed Salah. They were particularly vulnerable to the Rúben Neves ploy of sweeping first-time passes out to Neto on the left at every opportunity.

Joël Matip had the hosts’ first chance to level but steered a header wide from Luis Díaz’s cross. The pair combined again when Matip released the Colombia international through on goal but he was unable to convert past Sá. Another chance went begging when Díaz escaped down the left again and pulled the ball across the goalmouth. No one in red was alert to the invitation.

A Trent Alexander-Arnold shot deflected off three Wolves’ players into the path of Naby Keïta. His goal-bound effort was blocked by Toti. It was all a little rushed from a Liverpool perspective and Leander Dendoncker should have doubled the visitors’ advantage when Neto, released once again by Neves, found the midfielder arriving at the near post. Dendoncker found the Kop instead of the target.

Then it turned. Neto, a constant thorn to the Liverpool defence, limped off injured in the 22nd minute to be replaced by Hwang Hee-Chan. Two minutes later Klopp’s team were level courtesy of a sublime piece of magic from Thiago Alcântara.

Receiving Konaté’s pass out of defence with his back to goal, Thiago unlocked the Wolves defence with a first time reverse flick through the legs of Willy Boly. Sadio Mané was away and dragged his finish inside Sá’s near post. News of Aston Villa’s opener filtered through shortly afterwards, sparking pandemonium inside Anfield and the first chorus of “Steve Gerrard, Gerrard.”

The mood was punctured, however, when Thiago pulled up injured after over-hitting a cross-field ball towards Alexander-Arnold. Without signalling to the bench or waiting for treatment the influential Spain international trudged disconsolately to the sideline and straight down the tunnel. With less than a week until the Champions League final, his departure would represent a sizeable blow should the injury prove serious. Thiago had his head in his hands while sat on the bench for the second half.

Thiago was replaced by James Milner at the interval. Wolves had their injury problems too with Sá suffering a leg injury that forced John Ruddy to replace the first-choice keeper for the second half. The visitors defended impressively, however, and despite news of Philippe Coutinho extending Villa’s lead at City the resilience of Boly, Conor Coady and Toti represented a formidable obstacle to Liverpool’s title ambitions.

Mané beat Ruddy with a delightful chip when released inside the box by Diogo Jota but was ruled offside. He was played through again by Alexander-Arnold and went down under a challenge from Coady. The referee, Anthony Taylor, was unmoved by the penalty appeals and Jota’s follow-up was deflected over by Toti. Wolves could have intensified Liverpool’s anxiety but Hwang, Jiménez and Dendoncker all wasted excellent openings on the counterattack.

Wolves’ resistance was finally broken six minutes from time when Matip met Alexander-Arnold’s corner with a towering header that Jiménez blocked on the goal-line. Ruddy scooped the ball away but only as far as Matip, who won the second header for Salah to turn home at close range. It was the substitute’s 23rd Premier League goal of the season, meaning he will share the Golden Boot with Son Heung-min.

False rumours of a late Villa equaliser caused fleeting uproar inside Anfield but that’s all they were. Andy Robertson sealed victory in the final minute when exchanging passes with substitute Roberto Firmino and sliding in from the angle. Confirmation of City’s comeback arrived within seconds and there was deflation on the faces of Liverpool’s players when the final whistle sounded on their relentless Premier League chase. And so to Paris. – Guardian