Jurgen Klopp’s shrewdness keeps Liverpool on pace with Manchester City for Premier League in must-win over Aston Villa

BIRMINGHAM, England — At the end of a day, as Manchester City added a dangerous new blockbuster for next season, Jurgen Klopp’s game with his own squad depth paid off to keep Liverpool in the Premier League title race.

City’s takeover of Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland is a reminder that they intend to set the pace now and in the future, but Liverpool proved here they have the hunger to bring the current fight to the point and impressive Despite showing to take an important win 2-1 over Aston Villa despite vastly changed line-up.

Klopp made five changes with Andy Robertson as the night was free while Mohamed Salah and Thiago Alcantara were among those on the bench as Kostas Tsimikas and Curtis Jones were drafted. It’s a delicate balancing act of maintaining the level of performance while chasing an unprecedented quadruple, that’s what Klopp does with plays asking tough questions every few days.

“I’ve known the boys for a long time [time]. If I asked them, they would all say, ‘I can play,’ so I don’t ask,” said Klopp. “I have to make these decisions on my own. Of course, I don’t have anything else to do but watch football games and football players and with all that on your mind you’re like, ‘How could that be today?’

“It’s with the guys who don’t have a lot of rhythm, it’s not that easy – Kostas, Curtis. Kostas went through a lot of pain all over the place and Curtis was involved in the moment we started playing really good moments. But we have to win the game, so I thought now it’s time for Thiago into the half spaces. It’s my job to make decisions.”

It threatened to backfire when Robertson’s backup, Tsimikas, collided with Ollie Watkins within the first three minutes as the pair attempted to find Lucas Digne’s cross. Joel Matip was also felled in close quarters so Douglas Luiz headed on target and converted on the second try after Alisson saved his first shot.

Matip responded almost immediately after Villa failed to convert Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick. After Fabinho lost to what appeared to be a hamstring injury – and testing that depth even further – Liverpool reinforced after half-time and Luis Diaz, under power once again all evening, crossed to Sadio Mane to lob an excellent header past Emiliano Martinez .

In a way it had to be Mane. He has scored nine goals in ten games against Villa, five in five at Villa Park and has not scored more goals for Liverpool since Diaz joined the club at the end of January.

It was Mane’s 15th goal of the season, meaning Liverpool are only the second team in Premier League history to have three players achieve that milestone in the same season: Mane, Salah and Diogo Jota. Salah had just 18 minutes here to continue with Saturday’s next FA Cup final against Chelsea, but Villa were more dangerous in that period.

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Mark Ogden explains how Manchester City won the race for Erling Haaland.

There were former Liverpool links everywhere you looked, with Steven Gerrard in the Villa dugout alongside former Reds midfielder Gary McAllister. Liverpool received £142million from Barcelona for Philippe Coutinho but there was no repayment on Tuesday as the Brazilian had one of his more subdued evenings. Instead, it was ex-striker Danny Ings who threatened to scuttle Liverpool’s title bid.

Ings, who signed for Liverpool in 2015 before leaving for good four years later, was unconvinced as he found several promising positions and the offside flag was correctly flown when he beat Alisson with a low drive in the 85th minute.

Gerrard did his best to join the chorus of disapproval aimed at referee Jon Moss over a series of strange phone calls. He cut off a question about Moss’s performance before it was posed: “No comment. I just hope it gets watched. That’s all I’ll say.” Gerrard said Moss was retiring at the end of the season, replying: “Is he? Good.”

Klopp revealed that Fabinho was optimistic about the possibility of his season coming to an end – the midfielder watched the second half from the dugout in another encouraging sign – but the pace of the season’s highlight is unrelenting with a Wembley appointment in four days .

“Now we need to recover, really recover and play the FA Cup final because obviously there is no mercy anywhere because we are creating this situation by qualifying for all finals which is absolutely massive,” said Klopp. “We’re playing an incredibly big game and we’ll be preparing with the lads from Thursday.”

This hard-fought win was another reminder that each of them will matter. Klopp praised City’s conquest of Haaland, saying: “City will never be a team that wins because of one player.” The same goes for Liverpool.

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