ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
LONDON • Liverpool usurped Manchester City to take top spot in the Premier League, but needed a James Milner penalty nine minutes from time to see off lowly Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage yesterday.
The in-form Sadio Mane put the visitors in front midway through the first half, but a rare defensive mix-up between Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker allowed Ryan Babel to give his former club a huge scare 16 minutes from time.
Fulham's awful defending all season is the reason they are heading back to the Championship after just one season back in the top flight, and the hosts gave Jurgen Klopp's men a much-needed gift when goalkeeper Sergio Rico bundled over Mane and Milner secured all three points from the spot.
Most of their attacking threat came down their left side in the first half and that proved the source of the breakthrough on 26 minutes.
Mane took his hot streak to 11 goals in 11 games with a simple finish after exchanging passes with Roberto Firmino.
At the other end, Babel was Fulham's biggest threat all afternoon and Tom Cairney fired wastefully over after he outpaced Trent Alexander-Arnold before the break.
The Reds started the second half with greater intent to try and put the game to bed.
We made it difficult for ourselves; we weren't calm enough on the ball, and then my mistake made it even more exciting.
VIRGIL VAN DIJK, Liverpool defender, on his miscommunication with goalkeeper Alisson which led to Fulham's equaliser.
However, as a torrential rain shower swept over the banks of the Thames to make playing conditions hazardous, Liverpool's slender lead proved a dangerous one.
While Mane was inches away from doubling his tally for the day with a deft header from a corner that clipped the top of the crossbar, disaster seemed to have struck for Liverpool when van Dijk's header back towards Alisson did not have enough pace and Babel nipped in to tap into an empty net.
However, the league leaders showed why they are in the running to end a 29-year title drought to get a vital three points with the help of some erratic goalkeeping from Rico.
Mohamed Salah's goal drought continued with just one strike in his last 10 games, but it was his shot that Rico spilled before the Spaniard unnecessarily pulled down Mane.
Milner took responsibility from the penalty spot and calmly sent Rico the wrong way to restore Liverpool's lead nine minutes from time, and this time they never looked like throwing it away.
The Reds now hold a two-point lead over Pep Guardiola's side, but the champions have a game in hand.