Liverpool fall short in title bid despite winning wild ride against Wolves

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<span>Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

The FA and Carabao Cups accompanied Liverpool on a lap of honour worthy of the description, along with an unmistakable sense of regret.

They were close, so close, and could not have done more on the final day to deliver title number 20 and the domestic treble. A former favourite of Jürgen Klopp from his Borussia Dortmund days kept it out of reach.

Related: Manchester City win Premier League as Gündogan seals incredible fightback

Anfield dared to believe in the unprecedented quadruple and an astonishing climax to the Premier League season until a small eruption occurred in the corner of the stadium in the 81st minute. It was Wolves’ fans announcing news of Ilkay Gündogan’s late winner for Manchester City against Aston Villa, and Liverpool’s heartbreak.

“With all the things that happened I would have preferred them to be 5-0 up after 10 minutes to be honest,” a deflated Klopp said.

Liverpool responded by breaking Wolves’ impressive second-half resistance with late goals from Mohamed Salah and Andy Robertson.

Victory ensured Klopp’s team ended the campaign with the only unbeaten home record in the Premier League and a remarkable 92 points. In 24 of the past 29 seasons that would have been enough to win the league. It is the third‑highest points total in Liverpool’s history, the fourth when converting the 42-game 1978-79 season to three points for a win.

That the other three have come in the past four seasons underlines the scale of the task required to challenge or unseat City. It was 2019 all over again, albeit with the manner of City’s comeback making the final day even more painful for their closest rivals. It can still be 2019 all over again by winning the Champions League in Paris next Saturday, although with Thiago Alcântara hobbling through the lap of honour with a serious-looking injury and Divock Origi already ruled out with a muscle problem, regret was not confined to the final league table for Klopp.

Anfield delivered a wild ride from the outset. Thousands lined Anfield Road to greet the Liverpool team coach before kick‑off and the atmosphere crackled as Klopp’s players emerged for the warm-up, more in hope than expectation at that stage. Then Anfield fell silent when Pedro Neto swept the visitors ahead in only the third minute.

The possibility of Wolves taking points from Liverpool, having lost eight of their previous 13 Premier League games, had barely received a mention in the final‑day narrative. But the hosts received a rude awakening after switching off at a José Sá goal-kick. Ibrahima Konaté misread the flight of the Wolves keeper’s clearance and the ball sailed through to release Raúl Jiménez, who glanced across to see Neto sprinting unmarked into the area and centred for his strike partner to convert past Alisson. The Liverpool keeper was denied a club record‑equalling 21st clean sheet of the season in the process, although ultimately shared the Golden Gloves award with Ederson on 20.

Liverpool responded with an energetic, threatening display, albeit while looking nervous in central defence without Virgil van Dijk, who was named on the bench alongside Salah. They were particularly vulnerable to the Rúben Neves ploy of sweeping first‑time passes out to Neto on the left at every opportunity.

Joël Matip, Luis Díaz and Naby Keïta all went close to an equaliser but Leander Dendoncker should have doubled the visitors’ lead when Neto found the midfielder arriving at the near post. Dendoncker found the Kop instead of the target.

Then it turned. Neto, a constant thorn to the Liverpool defence, limped off injured to be replaced by Hwang Hee-chan. Two minutes later Liverpool levelled courtesy of a sublime piece of skill from Thiago. Receiving Konaté’s pass with his back to goal, Thiago unlocked the Wolves defence with a first-time reverse flick through the legs of Willy Boly. Sadio Mané was away and finished inside Sá’s near post.

Related: Leeds escape the drop as Harrison strike seals final-day win at Brentford

News of Villa’s opener filtered through shortly afterwards, sparking pandemonium and the first chorus of “Steve Gerrard, Gerrard”.

The mood was punctured, however, when Thiago pulled up after overhitting a crossfield ball towards Trent Alexander-Arnold and had to be replaced at the interval by James Milner. Wolves had their injury problems too with Sá suffering a leg injury that forced John Ruddy to replace the first-choice keeper. The visitors defended impressively, however, and despite news of Philippe Coutinho extending Villa’s lead the resilience of Boly, Conor Coady and Toti Gomes represented a formidable obstacle to Liverpool’s title ambitions. Wolves could have intensified Liverpool’s anxiety but Hwang, Jiménez and Dendoncker all wasted excellent openings on the counterattack.

Mané beat Ruddy with a delightful chip when released inside the box by Diogo Jota but was ruled offside. Liverpool claimed the lead that could have given them the title with six minutes remaining when Matip met Alexander-Arnold’s corner with a towering header that Jiménez blocked on the goalline. Ruddy scooped the ball away as far as Matip, who won the second header for Salah to turn home at close range. It was the substitute’s 23rd Premier League goal of the season, meaning he will share the Golden Boot with Son Heung-min.

False rumours of a late Villa equaliser caused fleeting uproar inside Anfield but that’s all they were. Robertson sealed victory in the final minute, exchanging passes with substitute Roberto Firmino and sliding in from the angle.

Confirmation of City’s comeback arrived within seconds and Liverpool were crestfallen when the final whistle sounded on their relentless pursuit of the champions. And so to Paris.

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