Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp accepts luck has played a part in their rise to title contenders but stressed the job the players have done should not be under-estimated.
His side snatched a 2-1 win over Tottenham thanks to a 90th-minute Toby Alderweireld own goal to move back to the top of the Premier League – two points clear of Manchester City, who have a match in hand.
Mohamed Salah’s header was palmed back into the six-yard area by Hugo Lloris and Alderweireld diverted it back past his goalkeeper.
It was Liverpool’s 33rd winning goal in the 90th minute or later in Premier League history, which is eight more than any other side, and Klopp was asked if it was “fate” for Liverpool to win the title.
“I don’t go that far but if you go through the season of other teams, you will find these moments as well,” said Klopp.
“I told the boys after the game, there are 500,000 different ways to win a football game and it was rather ugly.
“No problem, we take that. Without a bit of luck you cannot be in the position we are in. It’s not possible.
“The boys work so hard, I think they deserve a bit of luck. For all the points we have now, we worked really hard.
“It is not important when you score but what it is on the scoresheet afterwards. Momentum is not a coincidence, it is something you take, you keep and you use. That helped obviously.
“Nine months ago, we started this mission, this ride, and wanted to go for the highest stakes in two competitions. We did it our way. The boys improved so much.
“We have to find a way to win games much more often than in the past. Until now it worked. It is all good.
“The boys work hard and if we would be first of the table after the last match of season, it would be a championship of will. We want it. We get used to situations, bit by bit, a bit better.”
Those SCENES at full-time 😍— Liverpool FC (@LFC) March 31, 2019
Yes, the Reds 💪🔴 pic.twitter.com/OLinnfdMXO
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, serving a touchline ban in the stands, was philosophical after seeing his side come close to what could have been only a second victory in 25 league matches at Anfield.
It does, though, leave them in a battle for a top-four spot having been considered title contenders less than two months ago.
“In football, sometimes you deserve to win, like us, and you don’t win,” he said.
“Sometimes, in another game, it happens the same, maybe we won when we didn’t deserve too much. That is football.
“I am very disappointed but in the same time, it is difficult to explain, I am proud of the performance.
“We bounced back, the second half is the way you want to play and that feeling you need if you want to be a real contender.
“Liverpool and City are fighting for the title. it is a shame we are not close. We were but in the last few weeks we find our reality, our place. We are disappointed but knowing realistically we must be happy.
“We have a mini-league now, seven games, it’s in our hands to be in the top four and Champions League next season.
“We are in the (Champions League) quarter-finals and we will fight with Man City to be in the semi-final.”
City boss Guardiola hailed his players’ mental strength, tipping them to “go like a machine” in the chase for an unprecedented clean sweep of Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup this term.
His side coasted past hapless Fulham 2-0 at Craven Cottage on Saturday, with Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero on target and Guardiola predicting only seven wins from their remaining seven matches will allow them to retain the league title.
City will face Tottenham in the Champions League quarter-finals and Brighton in the FA Cup’s last four, with Guardiola relishing the clogged schedule and the pressure.
“For the semi-final and for the Champions League, being in the position in the Premier League where you know if you don’t win you are going to lose the Premier League, maybe that’s going to help us for the other competitions,” said Guardiola.
“If you are 10 points in front you can maybe be a little more selective.
“But now there’s no other option, we don’t have any other choice, so every game we have to win, if not you drop that competition.
“So that’s why sometimes to play with that pressure is nice, it’s necessary to get the best out of ourselves.
“There’s no complaints about our mentality, what happened last season and this season again.
“The players are not stupid, about the fact we’re trying something so difficult to achieve.
“The way we started to play against Fulham, they show me we want to do it.
“What’s next is Cardiff, so we’ll prepare well, and go like a machine to win, to play, and try to win. Mentally the players are ready.”
Kevin De Bruyne’s return to fitness on Saturday handed Guardiola another boost as City inch closer to a completely clean bill of health.
Fernandinho was back on the bench at Fulham, and Guardiola even admitted young star Phil Foden could feature at some stage against Cardiff on Wednesday.
“It’s really important, but he is still a little bit far away from his best condition,” said Guardiola, of Fernandinho.
“We know how well (Ilkay) Gundogan has played in his absence.
“But we need Kevin, we need of course people like Vincent (Kompany), Phil (Foden), so the next game we’re going to make a few changes.
“A few players are going to play against Cardiff, and I want the best for them.”
It appeared Jurgen Klopp’s side were about to hand the initiative to Manchester City after Lucas Moura cancelled out Roberto Firmino’s first-half header, leaving the Reds level on 77 points but significantly behind on goal difference.
However, Salah – now eight matches without finding the net – popped up at the far post to head goalwards; Hugo Lloris could only palm out weakly and Toby Alderweireld got himself in an horrendous mess to divert it back past his goalkeeper in the 90th minute.
It was a narrow escape for Klopp’s side, who return to the top of the table with a two-point lead having played one match more, having faded badly after starting so well.
Here, we rate the Spurs players.
Hugo Lloris: Could do little about Firmino’s opener but dealt poorly with Salah’s late header, leading to Toby Alderweireld’s own goal. 6
Kieran Trippier: Got caught between the full-back and wing-back roles, allowing Robertson too much space. 5
Toby Alderweireld: Did well to keep up with Liverpool’s front men and was unlucky with the late own goal. 6
Davinson Sanchez: Played centrally, the busiest of the Spurs defenders when they had five on the field, and coped well. 7
Jan Vertonghen: Did as much as anyone to ensure Salah endured a frustrating afternoon. 6
Danny Rose: A fine outlet for Spurs on the left, timing runs well and delivering dangerous crosses. 7
Christian Eriksen: Showed determination and drive to help drag Spurs back into the game. 7
Moussa Sissoko: Gave good support to attacks and broke up play but spurned a good chance late on. 6
Dele Alli: Unable to impose himself on the game and showed only glimpses of his quality. 5
Harry Kane: Was almost anonymous in the first half but later showed his class by testing Alisson and producing a fine pass in the build-up to the equaliser. 6
Lucas Moura: Was Spurs’ most positive attacking player and the equaliser was good reward for a positive display. 7
Son Heung-min (for Sanchez, 69): Entered just before the equaliser and brought fresh energy for the closing stages. 6
Ben Davies (for Moura, 82): Came on in an attempt to shore up the defence late on. 6
Fernando Llorente (for Eriksen, 90): Entered too late to make an impact. 5