With a rip-roaring English Premier League title race entering its final week, Liverpool returned to the top of the table with a thrilling victory over Newcastle which ensures the EPL title will be decided on the final day.
In an entertaining encounter at a raucous St James’ Park, a late goal from Divock Origi secured a crucial 3-2 win for the visitors which leaves Manchester City needing to beat Leicester City on Monday to overtake Liverpool at the top of the table once again.
As one of the closest EPL title races in years comes to a conclusion, just two points separate Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola’s men with the Reds, on 94 points, having played one more game than the defending champions.
Liverpool had endured a torrid time in Barcelona on Wednesday, losing 3-0 in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal despite at times dominating, but Klopp’s men could not reflect on what could have been at the Camp Nou as victory against Newcastle was imperative to maintain the pressure on defending champions City.
The visitors were far from their best, twice allowing the lead to slip, and worryingly leading scorer Mo Salah was stretchered off with what looked like a head injury after clashing with Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka. Klopp later said that the striker needed to be assessed but revealed he did watch the end of the match in the dressing room.
Salah left the pitch injured in the second half.
“What can I say?” said Klopp on Sky Sports. “With the way Newcastle played, it was just difficult to deal with.
“What the boys put in was unbelievable. It’s heartbreaking, really. Mo goes down, we had to change and the decisive goal is [Xherdan] Shaqiri and Origi. It was a tough game against a powerful and physically stronger team than us. We had to fight and I couldn’t be more proud.”
While the visitors were unfortunate to lose Salah, the league’s leading scorer with 22 goals, they were also fortunate to have 11 men on the field with Trent Alexander-Arnold handling the ball on the line as Newcastle equalized at 1-1 in the first half.
The Reds had started brilliantly, taking the lead in the 13th minute as the unmarked Virgil van Dijk headed home from a corner for his fourth league goal of the season.
Such was Liverpool’s dominance at this early stage, a routine win seemed on the cards.
But slapdash defending allowed Newcastle, managed by former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, back into the game and raised the decibels inside the stadium.
Christian Atsu scored from close range, slotting in from the rebound after a Salomon Rondon effort was cleared off the line by Alexander-Arnold, who used his arm to keep the Venezuelan’s strike out of the net. Had Atsu not scored, it would likely have led to a penalty for the hosts and an Alexander-Arnold sending off.
Newcastle striker Rondon was impressive throughout the match.
Lifted by the roars of the crowd, and by Liverpool’s errors, Newcastle went close with Ayoze Perez’s rasping strike hitting the crossbar, before the visitors breached the defense once more.
As has often been the case for Liverpool over the last two seasons, it was Salah who hit the back of the net, delicately sweeping the ball in from six yards after a delightful cross from Alexander-Arnold.
The striker’s goal was his 26th of the season and extended his lead in the race to finish as the league’s top scorer.
But Newcastle also had an impressive striker on the pitch and it was the Magpies’ No9 Rondon who leveled the match, lasering in a brilliant strike after Liverpool had failed to deal with a corner.
In an attacking move, Klopp brought on Shaqiri, making only his third substitute appearance since February, for Georginio Wijnaldum. He later brought on James Milner and Origi as the need for a third goal became more urgent.
As the game neared its conclusion, the visitors became more nervy and looked to be heading to a disastrous draw — until the Reds were awarded a dubious free-kick, which Shaqiri curled into the box for Origi to head home from close range in the 86th minute.