Liverpool labour to win in 1st match at Anfield as champions
LIVERPOOL, England (AP):
Liverpool kept alive their bid to finish the Premier League season with a perfect home record after labouring to a 2-0 win against relegation-threatened Aston Villa yesterday in their first match at Anfield since winning the title.
A 17th straight home victory this season - and surely the most underwhelming - was secured by goals from Sadio Mane in the 71st minute and substitute Curtis Jones in the 89th.
Three days after Liverpool lost 4-0 at Manchester City their first match as champions, Jurgen Klopp's team again lacked the intensity, snap and precision that brought it the title in such devastating fashion this season.
Indeed, Liverpool had managed just two shots on target against Villa before Mane met a low cross into the area from midfielder Naby Keita with a first-time shot that struck the underside of the crossbar and bounced down over the line.
Jones tucked away a shot after a nod-down at the far post by Mohamed Salah to double the lead with the last chance of a dull game.
It was enough to earn the Reds one of the five wins they need to beat the record season points total in the Premier League of 100, set by Manchester City in 2017-18.
Wins over Burnley and Chelsea at Anfield over the next two weeks will see Liverpool complete the season with 19 victories out of 19, for a 100 per cent home record that has never been achieved in the Premier League.
The match was more important for Villa, given their perilous position in the relegation zone. The visitors gave Liverpool a guard of honour before the match - like Man City did on Thursday - but didn't pay the champions much respect on the field at an empty Anfield that was bedecked in club banners.
Indeed, with Liverpool often looking lethargic, Villa carried a threat on the counter-attack, although Dean Smith's team wasn't helped by a foot injury that seemed to hamper captain and playmaker Jack Grealish most of the game.
Villa stayed in third-to-last place, one point adrift of safety with five games left.