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Sadio Mané completes comeback at Aston Villa to keep Liverpool in title race | Premier League

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Jürgen Klopp had performed his triple fist push-up in front of the traveling Liverpool support. The headmaster’s pulse was still racing but the emotion was now one of elation – perhaps a little relief – rather than high stress. And then, as he prepared to disappear down the tunnel, he spotted his winner.

Sadio Mané had operated largely on the sidelines. The striker had thrown a wide header and had another effort taken out for offside against Luis Díaz. But in the 65th minute, Mané felt his opportunity. And how he made it count. On current form, you can only keep it so long.

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It was Díaz on the left, teasing Tyrone Mings before crossing, but the goal that settled this high-octane game and thrilled the whole nation (only jokingly, Pep) was all about movement and l ingenuity of Mané. He disappeared into space before shaping his body to shape the power of the header. Emiliano Martínez had no chance.

Neither did Mané when Klopp grabbed hold of him during the victory celebrations. There was a big hug before Klopp stared at him in a headlock, playfully manhandling him offstage. Mané had seen a late effort cleared past the line by Matty Cash but his eighth goal in 11 games proved the difference.

Liverpool deserved the win which puts the pressure back on Manchester City ahead of the Premier League leaders’ visit to Wolves on Wednesday night, although it wasn’t easy. They needed Alisson to make a few saves, including two to prevent Danny Ings. The first came after the Aston Villa striker took a heavy throw-in; the second in the 84th minute when Ings made ground from the right of goal, the angle tight.

The villa was excellent for the half hour opening. They scored early through Douglas Luiz and they barely folded afterwards. It was a night where Klopp rested Andy Robertson and only used Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcântara and Mohamed Salah as substitutes.

Liverpool had enough to get the job done, the win characterized by increasing levels of control and, also, digging in where needed. The only blemish was the hamstring injury which forced Fabinho out midway through the first half. Henderson’s arrival for him coincided with Liverpool’s tightening grip.

Sadio Mané scores for Liverpool against Aston Villa
Sadio Mané scores Liverpool’s second goal at Villa Park with a header. Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty Images

Not that Villa were ever out of place on a night when the tempo rarely dropped and referee Jon Moss struggled to keep up. He enraged Villa fans throughout and there were times when it was hard to predict his next move.

Would Villa manager Steven Gerrard force a slide from his beloved Liverpool? After their home draw against Tottenham on Saturday, the visitors could ill afford another draw. Gerrard could be proud of the way his team played, especially early on when they were quick and committed. And deserved their lead, which stunned Klopp.

It was Ollie Watkins who entered the back of the Liverpool defense for the first time, on a high ball from Tyrone Mings and, when he cut inside and offloaded, Alisson had to make a smart save . Villa recycled and Douglas Luiz just seemed to want him more than his markers when he attacked Lucas Digne’s cross. Alisson pushed the effort, without real conviction and, with players on the pitch including Konstantinos Tsimikas and Joel Matip, Douglas Luiz had a simple finish.

Liverpool’s response was immediate and the equalizer followed looser defending, with Mings getting it wrong this time, earning a free-kick from Trent Alexander-Arnold stuck in his cleats. Matip challenged, Diogo Jota came in and the ball broke to Virgil van Dijk, who fired and watched Martínez throw a hand. Matip was on hand to push home and it was fair to say the touch paper was on.

Villa brought a rare intensity and it rattled Liverpool, especially their defenders. Alisson made a clearance straight to Watkins and was lucky to get away with it while Ings needed to do better when he got up to meet a whipped cross from John McGinn. It was not Ings’ night.

Liverpool came to worry Villa with their exchanges and overloads on the flanks and they had chances before the break, ending the period in the ascendancy. Mané faltered but the big chance was created by Díaz and Alexander-Arnold for Naby Keïta. Unmarked from 10 meters and placed in the center, he completely missed his kick. Curtis Jones also shot directly at Martínez.

Gerrard and Klopp both sprinted towards the tunnel at half-time, a clear reflection of the urgency of the contest, and he didn’t back down in the second half. Liverpool pressed and probed, Alexander-Arnold almost freed Díaz with a fine ball over the top.

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Moments earlier, Alexander-Arnold had bent a free-kick just past the corner of the post and the crossbar; after that he whistled another broad. Ings played Watkins and Tsimikas had to be quick to cross but Liverpool were in control, threatening the next goal.

It came when 62nd-minute substitute Carney Chukwuemeka got Luiz in trouble and the also present Thiago pounced. He won the ball and found Jota, who transferred it to Díaz. Hazard. Mané’s head was a beauty.

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