Match report: Sadio Mane strike settles West Ham battle at Anfield
Liverpool overcame a serious challenge to their unbeaten run to defeat West Ham United 3-2 and go 22 points clear at the Premier League summit.
Second-half goals from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane overturned a deficit against the Londoners and secured a hard-fought 26th victory from 27 games this term.
Georginio Wijnaldum had given the leaders an early breakthrough at Anfield but Issa Diop levelled almost immediately and Pablo Fornals put the Hammers in front nine minutes into the second half and threatened the Reds’ streak of zero losses.
Jürgen Klopp’s men thereby matched the longest winning run in English top-flight history with their 18th success in a row.
Klopp made one change to his starting XI with Naby Keita replacing the injured Jordan Henderson in midfield.
James Milner was not included in the 18-man squad as a precaution due to a slight muscle strain, so Virgil van Dijk took the captain’s armband for the night.
A period of applause was held before kick-off at Anfield in tribute to former player Brian Jackson, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 86.
When the action began, the contest was open from the off.
Andy Robertson had already guided a curling effort over the crossbar and Mane deflected a Lukasz Fabianski clearance wide before the Reds bagged in the ninth minute.
From their latest attack a loose ball spun out to the byline on the right and Trent Alexander-Arnold seized upon it with an inviting cross back into the centre that Wijnaldum met with a downward header that Fabianski could only help on its way into the net.
Liverpool’s satisfaction was short-lived, however.
Diop reached the Hammers’ near-post corner at the Kop end first and forced a header over the goalline with Alisson Becker unable to make sufficient contact as he tried to scoop the ball away.
Game on, then, and Klopp’s men set about the search for a second with persistent pressure, though with the visitors an obvious worry on the counter-attack.
Salah ducked in from the flank and dispatched a dipping strike that Fabianski tipped over, Mane’s thump was blocked and Roberto Firmino drove another shot too high from 20 yards.
After Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick was clipped wide by the wall, the No.66 delivered a pinpoint corner that Van Dijk headed against the bar, meaning the sides retired for the interval with the score level.
Liverpool fashioned a promising chance for Firmino within a minute of the restart.
Alexander-Arnold spotted an avenue to thread a diagonal pass into the Brazilian at the left side of the Hammers penalty area but his attempt to sweep a first-time finish back across Fabianski flew off target.
Instead, West Ham got the third goal of the evening.
With 54 on the clock, Declan Rice spun in a dangerous delivery from the right edge of the area and Fornals, introduced from the bench just seven minutes earlier, pushed a finish past Alisson’s stretch into the bottom left corner.
Klopp responded by sending on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Keita and soon Alexander-Arnold walloped a rising hit that Fabianski carefully clawed out.
Their equaliser came with a slice of fortune on 68 minutes.
Robertson did brilliantly to break into space down the left wing and slide a perfect pass into the middle for Salah, whose low strike was fumbled by Fabianski and rolled over the line at a jubilant Kop end.
As the contest entered its final quarter, Firmino was somehow thwarted by the woodwork when Salah’s nudge across goal was sent his way by Fabianski’s save.
But the Reds would not be denied.
Joe Gomez’s 81st-minute shot was hopeful but took a helpful deflection that allowed Alexander-Arnold to race in and hook the loose ball across goal, where Mane was on hand to pounce.
The Liverpool No.10 thought he had completely put the game to bed soon after, from another Alexander-Arnold tee-up to the back post – but VAR ruled Mane was marginally offside as the pass came in.
Alisson had to deny Jarrod Bowen as the Hammers substitute broke in behind one-on-one and the hosts held firm to register yet another Premier League victory.