London: Chelsea moved within two points of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League after a 1-0 victory over Liverpool thanks to an Olivier Giroud header at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Spurs’ surprise loss at relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion on Saturday opened the door for Chelsea to close the gap on the top four and they capitalised on that lifeline with an assured performance over the Champions League finalists.
Frenchman Giroud headed what proved to be the winning goal in the 32nd minute, meaning the striker has now scored 17 league goals with his head since the start of 2015-16, more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.
Liverpool pressed but Chelsea held on to move within three points of the visitors who are third. On Wednesday, Chelsea have a game in hand over the Merseysiders at home to Huddersfield Town as they bid to set up a thrilling final day next Sunday.
“One month ago, it was impossible to imagine we could fight for a place in the Champions League,” Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said. “Now, there is hope.”
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp handed fullback Nathaniel Clyne a rare start, with Trent Alexander-Arnold moving into midfield, while there was no Alvaro Morata for Chelsea. Liverpool started on the front foot with Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane forcing goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois into smart saves.
But somewhat against the run of play, Giroud climbed highest to nod home Victor Moses’ cross and give Chelsea the lead. The goal rejuvenated Chelsea and they could have had a quick-fire second, but Cesc Fabregas drilled the ball wide.
Things were not going to plan for England`s Player of the Year Mohamed Salah on his return to his old club, with the Premier League top scorer booked for diving in the 39th minute. After the break Chelsea did have the ball in the net again through Antonio Rudiger, but the defender was flagged offside.
Liverpool almost found an equaliser late on, but substitute Dominic Solanke could only manage to head over. The result blows the top four race wide open. Chelsea and Tottenham have two games to play, while Brighton are Liverpool’s only remaining opponents. If the trio all win their remaining games, Chelsea would miss out on the Champions League next season but any slip up could see them sneak in at the last.
“We have a final next Sunday,” Klopp said looking ahead to the visit of Brighton. “That is how life is.”