NEWCASTLE, England (Reuters) – A first-half strike from midfielder Naby Keita helped Liverpool secure a hard-earned 1-0 win at Newcastle United on Saturday as Juergen Klopp’s side kept their Premier League title hopes alive and provisionally went top of the table.
The victory put Liverpool two points ahead of champions Manchester City, who can regain first spot with a win at Leeds United later on Saturday. Newcastle are ninth on 43 points.
“It’s the most difficult of circumstances. A team in form, a crowd waiting for ages for proper success,” said Klopp. “Our people were outstanding and Newcastle are obviously a really passionate crowd. Winning here is special.”
After an early half-chance for Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool hit the front in the 19th minute through Keita when he cleverly dribbled past Martin Dubravka to slot home following a smart link-up with Diogo Jota.
The goal was met with furious protests by Newcastle players who reckoned James Milner had fouled Fabian Schar in the build-up but the VAR allowed the effort to stand.
Liverpool, with possibly one eye on the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Villarreal on Tuesday, started without Mohamed Salah, Fabinho and Trent Alexander-Arnold but their absence was seldom felt as the visitors were barely troubled in the opening exchanges.
Sadio Mane had a glorious chance to double Liverpool’s lead from a counter-attack but the Senegal forward’s side-footed effort was comfortably kept out by Dubravka, who was called into action again when he tipped over Jota’s 41st-minute header.
With Liverpool dominating possession, Newcastle’s best moment of the half arrived when Miguel Almiron had the ball in the net after being played through by Bruno Guimaraes, only for the Paraguayan to be flagged offside.
“Coming here with five changes and building pretty much a new setup is really difficult, so the performance was absolutely outstanding. I loved it. We controlled the game in so many ways,” added Klopp.
“The only plan they had was the long ball to our right side… you can’t really defend them properly because it’s always these long balls. It’s really difficult to get a feeling for the game.”
Liverpool had a flurry of chances after the break but failed to beat Dubravka, who twice denied Jota as well as substitute Salah before Luis Diaz hit the side-netting in the 84th minute.
Newcastle manager Eddie Howe said his side never got going despite the opposition not being at their best.
“We competed well but lacked the quality that could have got us a goal. It is difficult to do it consistently against Liverpool… we were much more aggressive in the second half but did not have any concerted pressure in the game,” he said.
(Reporting by Dhruv Munjal in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar)