*Jonjo Shelvey salvages point for Newcastle to deny West Ham
*Hammers draw with Burnley
Liverpool marked their first home game since becoming Premier League champions with victory, scoring twice in the second half to see off a stubborn Aston Villa.
The Reds, who were beaten by Manchester City 4-0 on Thursday, were far from their best with the opening goal coming from just their second shot on target, Mane lashing Naby Keita’s cross in via the underside of the crossbar.
Until then Villa had looked like earning a precious and unexpected point and had even had chances to go ahead themselves, with Alisson parrying away Anwar El Ghazi’s fierce shot early in the second half.
Mane’s strike clearly deflated the visitors and they fell further behind just before full-time when Curtis Jones celebrated signing a new long-term deal by volleying home his first Premier League goal.
The victory means Liverpool have now won all 17 Premier League games at Anfield this season and extends their winning run at home to 24 league games, stretching back to a 1-1 draw with Leicester in January 2019.
Defeat for Villa means they remain in the relegation zone in 18th, one point adrift of safety and still searching for their first win since the Premier League was restarted.
Liverpool now have 89 points from 33 games and can still break Manchester City’s top-flight record of 100 points in a season with five matches remaining and 15 points available.
Reds not at their best, but get the job done
This was a welcome return to winning ways for Liverpool in their first Anfield game since a first league title win in 30 years was confirmed.
After the thrashing at Etihad Stadium, boss Jurgen Klopp said that his side had not lost any focus after achieving their main objective, but they were distinctly below par in a scrappy opening half against Villa.
After being given a guard of honour by the visitors before kick-off, Liverpool struggled to get into any sort of rhythm and did not register a first shot on target until shortly before half-time when Mane’s snapshot was comfortably saved by former Reds keeper Pepe Reina.
That was only their second attempt on goal – the first time in almost two years that the Reds had managed just two shots in the first half of a Premier League game.
Roberto Firmino, left on the bench as Klopp rotated his squad, came on just after the hour and only then did the hosts really start to look like their old selves.
In the end Liverpool, as champions do, got the job done.
It was not an encounter that will live long in the memory but it keeps Klopp’s side on course to add a couple more records to an already incredible season – the most points in a top-flight campaign and matching Sunderland’s 128-year-old record of winning every home game in a season.
Meanwhile, as David Moyes saw his West Ham players inch a little further away from the Premier League’s cliff edge, Steve Bruce completed another satisfactory mini audition in front of a Saudi Arabian television audience.
The Saudi dominated consortium who hope to shortly be handed the keys to St James’ Park after completing a £300m takeover at Newcastle United must decide whether to retain Bruce as manager but on this entertaining evidence the answer must surely be affirmative. Any coach capable of bringing the best out of Allan Saint-Maximin – once again, a vibrant presence – should not be discarded lightly, reports The Guardian.
Moyes’s future in charge of West Ham is shrouded in similar uncertainty but the draw leaves his side 16th, still vulnerable to relegation but four points clear of the bottom three. If only Andriy Yarmolenko had been fit enough to start victory might have been within the visitors’ grasp yet even without his catalytic inspiration they twice failed to protect leads.
Jamaal Lascelles was touch and go to make Steve Bruce’s teamsheet after sustaining a nasty ankle injury last week but passed a late fitness test. By the fourth minute Newcastle’s captain and key central defender probably wished he had failed it.
And there are more glamorous role models than Burnley but Chris Wilder knows the value of an ability to chisel out points. The Sheffield United manager sees the Clarets as a great example of how to establish a club in the Premier League but his own resourcefulness may have halted Sean Dyche’s accidental European charge.
“It was never the aim of the season,” said the Burnley manager. “The aim was to stay in the Premier League.” But his side were heading for eighth place and set to leapfrog the Blades until Wilder shuffled his reduced pack to salvage a draw in this meeting of the depleted. “To get a result from a losing position is satisfying,” he said. “The spirit was there.”
It is a common denominator. Another is that adversity can provide an opportunity. Ben Osborn had to wait 11 months for his first league start for United but, with two-thirds of his usual midfield injured, Wilder belatedly turned to one of last summer’s signings against Spurs last week and here he helped fashion John Egan’s leveller. The other contributor was Billy Sharp, introduced as Wilder abandoned his 3-5-2 to adopt a midfield diamond. “Delighted for Ben,” said Wilder. “He drove the game forward for us.”
Liverpool 2 – 0 Aston Villa
Burnley 1 – 1 Sheffield United
Newcastle 2 – 2 West Ham