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Chelsea keep top-four race alive as Olivier Giroud header sinks hungover Liverpool

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Chelsea found a way to stop Mohamed Salah – smother him both on and off the pitch. His former Roma team-mate Antonio Rudiger was all hugs before kick-off, and then did not give the Liverpool forward an inch of space in 90 minutes as ­Chelsea gained the precious win that suddenly gives them an unlikely chance of qualifying for the Champions League.

Liverpool are in the final of the competition, of course, having overcome Roma in that epic semi-final last week, and would have ­secured their participation next season had they avoided defeat here. Hopefully they will beat Real Madrid in the final on May 26 in Kiev, but they will probably have to win at home against Brighton next Sunday to make sure.

Chelsea remain the outsiders for third or fourth place, with Tottenham Hotspur also in that fight. But, as Antonio Conte, the head coach, said, “we are still alive” and this could go down to the wire. It might even be decided on goal difference and that is also against Chelsea, but they have a slither of hope when a month ago there was none. They are fighting again after their incredible post-Christmas slump. 

There was one extraordinary movement when he tricked a route past three Liverpool defenders through the tightest space and ­Karius turned his cross-shot away.

Liverpool desperately wanted the draw, to end this race, and re-doubled their efforts. Klopp re-shaped his team and introduced a fourth forward in Dominic Solanke. Like Salah, the 20-year-old is a ­former Chelsea player and maybe he would provide the twist, and not his feted team-mate, as he attempted to score his first Liverpool goal? Solanke came close. Twice.

He had two headers, with the second sailing over in injury-time to consign Liverpool to defeat and give Chelsea hope of at least taking the top-four race into the final weekend – providing they beat Huddersfield Town in midweek – when they are away to Newcastle United. Spurs host Newcastle on Wednesday, before welcoming Leicester City.

Liverpool have bigger targets and, as Klopp noted, at least have some time to rest and recuperate before the first of their two “cup finals” (Brighton then Real Madrid). The frustration is that, had they not lost here, it would have just been one final. The frustration for ­Chelsea is they have not produced enough smart performances like this throughout the season.


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