Liverpool have gone top of the Premier League table after a Naby Keita goal gave them a vital 1-0 win away to Newcastle United.
Jurgen Klopp, who dropped Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ibrahima Konate, Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara and Mohamed Salah to the bench, saw his side eventually find their rhythm after a scrappy start.
The Reds took the lead when Keita traded passes with Diogo Jota, rounded the keeper and coolly slotted the ball in for his fourth of the season.
Eddie Howe’s side defended well but could not get their attacking threats, including Allan Saint-Maximin, Bruno Guimaraes and Joe Willock, into the game.
The Magpies created few chances in the first period but did have a goal from Miguel Almiron correctly ruled out for offside.
The visitors should have put the game to bed with the in-form Sadio Mane spurning two big opportunities, first with a tame effort in the first half, then putting a shot wide from close range after the break.
Newcastle brought on Chris Wood and Jamal Lascelles but it did not spark much of an improvement and the Reds held on to go two points clear of Manchester City, who face Leeds United this evening at Elland Road.
Jurgen Klopp’s gamble with team selection pays off.
Despite a seemingly comfortable 2-0 aggregate lead over Villareal going into Tuesday’s second leg, Klopp made five changes today and rested some of his matchwinners.
But it did not lead to a big dip in performance with all five of the players who came in – Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, Naby Keita, Diogo Jota and James Milner- playing well and restricting the Magpies to few chances.
There is an argument that the Reds have a stronger squad than Manchester City. It will be interesting if Pep Guardiola also rings the changes away to Leeds United later today bearing in mind they have a tougher game against Real Madrid in the second leg on Wednesday.
MAN OF THE MATCH
James Milner (Liverpool): The 36-year-old was recalled to the starting XI and stepped up to the plate again with his work rate, defensive duties and throwing his body on the line.
LIVERPOOL: Alisson 6, Gomez 7, Matip 7, Van Dijk 8, Robertson 6, Keita 8, Henderson 6, Milner 8, Jota 6, Mane 4, Diaz 6. Subs: Fabinho 5, Salah 6.
NEWCASTLE: Dubravka 8, Krafth 7, Schar 7, Burn 7, Targett 7, Guimaraes 5, Shelvey 5, Saint-Maximin 5, Willock 4, Almiron 6, Joelinton 6. Subs: Lascelles 5, Wood 5.
19′ – GOAL FOR LIVERPOOL! Lovely goal. Keita trades passes with Jota, rounds the keeper and calmly slots it in. But Schar looked to have been fouled in the buildup.
39′ – DISALLOWED GOAL! Almiron is through on goal, he does well to round Alisson and score but the offside flag is up.
62′ – BIG CHANCE! Mane puts it wide first time in the box from Gomez’s pass.