Liverpool leapfrogged Manchester City to go top of the Premier League table after scrappy 2-1 win over Fulham.
It was an even start to proceedings in west London but Sadio Mane broke the deadlock with a fine finish after Roberto Firmino perfectly teed up his attacking teammate in the 26th minute.
From there Liverpool asserted authority, but a mishap from Virgil van Dijk nearly cost his side dearly in the 74th minute with Ryan Babel benefiting from a poor header back to Alisson before he slotted into an empty net.
It was looking like an unlikely point for the Cottagers but James Milner spared Liverpool’s blushes after tucking away a penalty in convincing fashion during the dying embers, taking Liverpool top of the league.
And so, after a less than convincing win for the Reds at Craven Cottage, what did we learn?
1. Mane catches Salah
Mane has been the man in form, not just on Merseyside but across the continent and his purple patch has continued to stretch after the wily winger netted his seventh goal in five matches this afternoon, taking his Premier League tally level with Mohamed Salah in the race for the Golden Boot.
With the Egyptian ace taking his foot off the goalscoring pedal in recent outings, Mane has taken up the role as the club’s forward-thinking fulcrum, providing the goals in key games and alleviating the drought of his attacking teammate.
Sadio Mané is the second African player to score 40+ goals for Liverpool in the Premier League:
?? Mohamed Salah (49)
?? Sadio Mané (40)
Incredible players. pic.twitter.com/GvORwBKwVE
— Coral (@Coral) March 17, 2019
This was another eye-catching performance from Mane who engineered the initial attack for Liverpool’s opener before finishing it off, deftly striking past a hapless Sergio Rico after being precisely picked out by his selfless strike colleague Firmino.
The Senegal international was as devastating as ever, forming an explosive partnership with Andy Robertson on the left and impressing with attacking forays on the flank. This is an acquaintanceship that has truly blossomed this season, and one that left Timothy Fosu-Mensah little chance; a performance of this substance will only add to the frustration of Robertson’s absence for the Champions League quarter-final first leg.
2. Continued progress
Victory this afternoon has now ensured Liverpool have accumulated more points than their entire 38-match campaign (75) last year, currently boasting a tally of 76 with the club’s best Premier League return in the 2013/14 season (84).
The Anfield club have enjoyed serene progress since Jurgen Klopp took the reins in 2015 and they continue to thrive under his tutelage, this season proving formidable both domestically and in Europe as the club look to clinch a Premier League and Champions League double.
There may have been a slight European hangover this afternoon as the club nearly left the capital with just a point to their name. They ceratinly dominated the match, and afforded the Cottagers sporadic opportunities, but nearly slipped up – that said, true champions tend to win when they’re not at the races.
In a week where Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp compared Franz Beckenbauer’s endorsement of his managerial abilities to that of “the king knighting a man”, the German continues to enhance his own royal reputation on Merseyside.
Fulham 1-2 Liverpool FT:
Pass accuracy: 76%-84%
Chances created: 5-11
A late Milner penalty sends Liverpool to the top of the table. pic.twitter.com/whtjfq3AY4
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 17, 2019
3. Lallana unable to replicate Burnley form
In a word Adam Lallana was quite simply, sensational, against Burnley last week, putting in a man-of-the-match display against the Clarets with his silky movement, intelligent positional play and accurate passing, but this afternoon he wasn’t quite able to have that same desired effect.
With competition in the middle of the park extremely congested at Anfield the England international needed to stamp his mark and leave a lasting impression; unfortunately it was a rather lukewarm performance from the 30-year-old who struggled to really expose Fulham’s leaky defence.
He showed plenty of heart and determination which is testament to his commitment to the club, but this was a match, against a struggling Premier League team, where he had the opportunity to showcase his worth and stake a claim in the starting XI.
A midfielder trident of Lallana, Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum proved threatening last week against Burnley, but it wasn’t quite able to truly devastate a club who have conceded the most league goals this season.
4. Van Dijk avoids his Gerrard moment?
Prior to the match Wijnaldum spoke about how wary he was of the threat of his Dutch teammate and former Liverpool player Ryan Babel, and with good reason; the pink-haired Amsterdammer came back to bite his old employers, nearly ruining their title challenge.
The veteran winger was enjoying some success down the left, often showcasing his experience by getting the better of the prodigiously talented, but still young full-back, Trent Alexander-Arnold.
However, his true crowning moment came in the 74th minute; the Dutchman piling pressure on another of his international teammates, Virgil van Dijk, whose loose header failed to produce the necessary weight to reach Alisson, before he cooly rounded the Brazilian and levelled the scoring.
Wijnaldum warned, but Liverpool failed to listen, and their title hopes were cast into significant doubt until Milner salvaged three points in the closing stages.
Van Dijk appeared to harness his inner Steven Gerrard by nearly costing his side the match with an epic mistake, and after the match when asked whether he felt relief, Van Dijk told NBC: “No, we won the game. Mistakes happen in football. It is what it is, but we go again.”
“We go again”. Those famous three words uttered by Gerrard during the infamous title race in 2013/14 – Liverpool fans will be hoping for no such repeat this time around.
5. Salah barren run continues
The diminutive magician is by no means on a bad run of form in terms of his performances, but his goalscoring drought now stretches to seven matches across all competitions, with his last goal coming in the 3-0 win over Bournemouth.
In fact, Salah has scored just one goal in his last 10 appearances and just four in 2019; Klopp will be counting his blessings Mane has stepped up to the plate, but with a vital few months coming up, the German will certainly need his former MVP firing on all cylinders.
You can sense the frustration from the Egyptian ace who is champing at the bit to end his drought and reaffirm his position as the club’s central catalyst; that mantle is currently being held by Mane, but with the style of Liverpool’s play it shouldn’t be too long before he is back amongst the goals.
This afternoon no player registered more shots than Salah (five) but three of his efforts were equalled by Rico while the other two were wide of the mark. He is simply itching for a goal, but given how clinical he has been in front of goal for Liverpool since signing, once one comes, others will duly follow.