Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admitted his side were below their best against Stoke City as they prepared for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Roma with a goalless stalemate at Anfield on Saturday.
The Reds head to the Italian capital on Wednesday with a 5-2 advantage from the first leg and do so on the back of a Premier League match they controlled for long periods without over-exerting themselves in search of a winner.
The goalless draw with the Potters left Liverpool with a healthy cushion over fifth-placed Chelsea and in need of a maximum of four points from their remaining two matches to guarantee qualification for the Champions League via a top four finish.
“I saw everything I wanted to see except fluency and fun and joy,” Klopp said. “It is hard on a day like this.
“We had to make changes, that is always a bit of a rhythm-breaker, in the final third everything is instinct between the regulars, and we missed a bit of that. But no-one was seriously injured so we carry on.”
Klopp made five changes from the side which beat Roma in the first leg, with Sadio Mane the most notable absentee from the starting line-up as he missed out with a thigh problem.
The Senegal winger will be fit for the trip to Rome and Klopp revealed there are a couple of players carrying slight injuries, including captain Jordan Henderson.
“There are always knocks here and there after the games,” Klopp said. “Hendo twisted his ankle but could carry on. That is a good sign rather than a bad one.
“Joe Gomez got an early knock as well, twisted his ankle as well a little bit so we will have to see about that. Sadio didn’t play so he will be fine for Wednesday.”
Stoke have never won a top-flight match at Anfield – the longest unbeaten home record between two teams in top-flight history – with their last league victory there in Division Two in 1959.
There was never any danger of that statistic being altered as Liverpool dominated yet only sporadically tested visiting goalkeeper Jack Butland.
This was also a game where Mohamed Salah endured, by his exceptionally high standards, what must be considered a rare off day as he failed to score in a home league game for the first time since December 26.
Egypt international Salah missed Liverpool’s best chance in the fifth minute when he was sent clear only to clip the ball wide, while referee Andre Marriner denied the hosts a penalty when Georginio Wijnaldum’s cross struck the arm of Erik Pieters.
“For me it looked a penalty, a clear one,” Klopp said. “I said a few times in games like this, maybe in the Champions League against Manchester City we were lucky, in the Premier League, not one time.
“We should have got more penalties, we don’t have them.”
Stoke manager Paul Lambert praised the performance of his players although the Potters need results elsewhere to go their way to have any hope of avoiding relegation.
“We came here against a team with one foot in the Champions League final,” he said. “And we handled everything. The performance of the team was outstanding.
“I have never been beaten here in six games as a manager and once as a player. It makes the last couple of games interesting. Hopefully we’ll get a favour.”
Meanwhile Klopp urged Liverpool supporters thinking of travelling to Rome not to go to the Stadio Olimpico if they were worried about their safety after a Reds fan was subjected to a brutal attack outside Anfield by away fans before the first leg.
“If you don’t feel safe, stay in the hotel, go home again and we do the job without the people,” he added.
“Nobody should be afraid or whatever.”
Cesc Fabregas boosted Chelsea’s bid to qualify for the Champions League as his superb strike clinched a 1-0 win at Swansea, while West Brom kept alive their slender hopes of avoiding Premier League relegation with a 1-0 victory against Newcastle on Saturday.
Spain midfielder Fabregas gave Chelsea the perfect start at the Liberty Stadium when he took an Eden Hazard pass and fired home for his 50th Premier League goal in the fourth minute.
That was enough to secure a third successive league win for Antonio Conte’s fifth-place side, who move within two points of Tottenham ahead of their fourth-placed London rivals’ clash with Watford on Monday.
“It’s important for us to take three points. The big problem we are having this season is that we create many chances to score but we don’t take them,” Conte said.
“The only way we have to put a bit of pressure on the top four is to win. Today has been very positive to put that pressure on Tottenham.”
It was a damaging defeat for Swansea and Carlos Carvalhal’s team are now only one point above the relegation zone with three games left.
West Brom would have been relegated to the Championship if they had failed to take maximum points at St James’ Park, but Matt Phillips bagged the first-half winner to keep them in with a shout for a few more hours at least.
Jake Livermore’s pin-point pass sent Phillips racing clear of the Newcastle defence and the winger lashed past Martin Dubravka in the 29th minute.
Bottom club Albion are five points from safety and an eight-season stay in the top flight would still be over if they fail to take maximum points from their last two games against Tottenham and Crystal Palace.
Interim boss Darren Moore said: “We can’t control other results. There’s nothing we can do.
“We’re just doing everything we can at our end. The boys have done really well since I came in.”
Dusan Tadic breathed new life into Southampton’s bid to beat the drop as his double sealed a crucial 2-1 success in the south-coast derby against Bournemouth at St Mary’s.
Mark Hughes’ third-bottom side took the lead when Serbia winger Tadic finished off a rapid counter-attack from Mario Lemina in the 25th minute.
Joshua King equalised for Bournemouth with a close-range finish after Saints failed to clear a corner in first-half stoppage-time.
But Southampton restored their advantage in the 54th minute thanks to a gem from Tadic, who embarked on a fine solo run before finishing in clinical fashion.
Southampton, hoping to extend their six-season stint in the top flight, are one point adrift of safety with three games left.
“This is one of the most important wins in our history,” Tadic said. “We are fighting for our lives and we showed that. We knew we had to win, no matter how we played.”
Crystal Palace are on course to avoid relegation after thrashing Leicester 5-0 at Selhurst Park.
Everton pushed Huddersfield deeper into the relegation mire as goals from Cenk Tosun and Idrissa Gueye earned a 2-0 win at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Burnley, in seventh and chasing a Europa League place, were held to a 0-0 draw by Brighton at Turf Moor.