Liverpool return to the setting of their sixth coronation as European champions on Tuesday, as they face Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano in their last-16 first leg.

The Reds beat Tottenham 2-0 at Atletico's ground last year to win the competition for the first time since 2005, having been defeated in the final the previous campaign.

They go into Tuesday's encounter as big favourites due to a combination of their remarkable form and Atletico's well-documented struggles.

Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain tussle in Germany in Tuesday's other fixture, with their contest sure to capture the imagination of neutrals given the amount of attacking talent on display.

Ahead of Tuesday's action, we take a look at the key data from both games…

Atletico Madrid v Liverpool

0 - Atletico have never lost at home under Diego Simeone in the Champions League knockout stages (W8 D4). In those 12 games, they have only conceded two goals.

3 - Liverpool, who beat Genk and Salzburg on matchday three and matchday six of the group stage, have never won three consecutive away Champions League games. They last did so in the European Cup back in September 1984 under manager Joe Fagan (five in a row).

10 - Liverpool's Sadio Mane has scored 10 goals in 14 Champions League knockout games since 2017-18. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has been more prolific over that period (11 goals).

3 - Liverpool have always progressed against Spanish opposition in two-legged Champions League ties (3/3): 2-2 on away goals v Barcelona (2006-07, round of 16), 5-0 on aggregate v Real Madrid (2008-09, round of 16), 4-3 v Barcelona (2018-19, semi-finals).

50 - If he plays, this will be Alvaro Morata's 50th Champions League game. Fifty per cent of the Atletico striker's goals in the Champions League have come in the knockout phase (7/14).

Borussia Dortmund v PSG

1 - Dortmund have made it past the Champions League last 16 only once in the past five seasons. That was in 2016-17 under current PSG coach Thomas Tuchel – they were eventually knocked out by Monaco in the quarter-finals.

8 - PSG have reached the Champions League knockout stages for the eighth consecutive season – only Real Madrid (23), Barcelona (16) and Bayern Munich (12) are on a longer run. However, in that time, the French side have never gone past the quarter-finals and have been eliminated in the last 16 in each of the past three seasons.

2 - Two of the three youngest players to have scored three or more goals and delivered three or more assists in the Champions League since last season play for Dortmund: 19-year-old Jadon Sancho (three goals, three assists) and 21-year-old Achraf Hakimi (four goals, three assists). The other is PSG's 21-year-old Kylian Mbappe (nine goals, eight assists).

30 - Mbappe has had 30 goal involvements in 30 Champions League games (19 goals, 11 assists). He has scored three goals against BVB, his joint-best record in the Champions League against a single opponent.

22 - Dortmund's previous 22 goals in the Champions League have all come from open play, the longest current run among the remaining sides in the competition.

Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly yet to begin talks with Neymar over a new deal.

The Brazil international was linked with a return to Barcelona before the start of this season, but ended up staying in Paris.

Yet after claims last month that Neymar wanted a new deal at PSG, it is reported no negotiations have been held just yet.

 

TOP STORY – PSG YET TO BEGIN CONTRACT TALKS WITH NEYMAR

PSG and Neymar are yet to meet to discuss a possible extension, according to Le Parisien.

Neymar, 28, is contracted to PSG until 2022, but there have been no talks over a stay beyond then.

The forward is expected to return from injury in PSG's Champions League last-16 first leg against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona appear to have found their replacement for the injured Ousmane Dembele. Sport reports the LaLiga giants have decided to pay Leganes forward Martin Braithwaite's release clause of €18million. Braithwaite has six goals in 24 LaLiga games this season.

- Bayern Munich are lining up a replacement for Jerome Boateng. France Football reports RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano, who has a €60m release clause, has become a priority for Bayern.

- With Champions League football next season slipping away from Roma, the Serie A club may be unable to sign Chris Smalling. Corriere dello Sport reports Tottenham, Everton and Juventus are interested in Smalling, with Manchester United wanting €20m (£16.7m) for the 30-year-old.

- Two of Arsenal 18-year-olds are apparently attracting interest from Liverpool. Football Insider reports the runaway Premier League leaders are looking at Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka.

- Roma are considering a move for RB Leipzig right-back Lukas Klostermann, according to CalcioMercato. Klostermann, 23, has been capped eight times by Germany.

Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak insisted there was more to Liverpool than just their brilliant front three and said they were deserved favourites.

Liverpool face Atletico in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie at the Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday.

Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino again shape as being huge threats to Atletico, who have won just one of their past seven games.

But Oblak, likely to play a key role for the LaLiga side, said there was more to worry about than just Liverpool's forwards.

"We've obviously analysed everything but in the end all three are world-class players," he told a news conference.

"And it's not only them, Liverpool are a team and everyone on the pitch is an amazing player. They are in great form so I need to worry about all of them, not anyone individually.

"I'm worried about Liverpool as a team, we are playing Liverpool, not three great players up front. It will be a very difficult game and all three will cause us problems."

While Atletico are struggling for form, Liverpool are unbeaten in the Premier League and hold a 25-point lead at the top.

Oblak said the reigning European champions deserved favouritism for the last-16 tie.

"It's a team that practically hasn't lost a single game in a year, they are deservedly favourites and I'm sure they're favourites," he said.

"But that doesn't mean that we can give up and let them play how they want. We want to play our best possible game, the best game of the season so far and to get to the second leg alive.

"We are going to do our best and play our best against Liverpool who are in a great place at the moment."

Liverpool star Trent Alexander-Arnold is unfazed about individual honours, but the full-back thanked Cafu after the Brazil great said he could win the Ballon d'Or.

Alexander-Arnold, 21, has played a key role in Liverpool's dominant season so far, leading Cafu to suggest the right-back can win a Ballon d'Or.

Speaking ahead of his side's Champions League last-16 first leg against Atletico Madrid, Alexander-Arnold was thankful, but added individual prizes were not a focus.

"Obviously massive praise from a legend of the game. It's something that I'm really thankful for and obviously I have to give thanks to him for them words," he told a news conference.

"I try to be the best player I can be. I think it's obviously a team game, so it's about the players I have around me. The players I have in training, the manager, the support I have all around me that enables me to be as good as I can be.

"Accolades may or may not come in the future, it doesn't really faze me as much as maybe it does other players."

The Ballon d'Or has traditionally been won by attacking players, something Cafu suggested needed to change.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp also praised Alexander-Arnold, who has scored two goals and provided 12 assists in 35 games this season.

"Any football experts in? Did Cafu win the Ballon d'Or? So, he thinks obviously a right-back should win the Ballon d'Or?" he said.

"I couldn't love Trent Alexander-Arnold more. I admire his skills, he's a wonderful boy, character all that stuff. But it's a very positive message from Cafu.

"Yes, he has big potential. If he will win the Ballon d'Or I have no idea. Thank you Cafu for being a really nice fella, obviously."

Diego Simeone says Atletico Madrid are optimistic heading into their Champions League clash with Liverpool, where Diego Costa is in line for a return.

Atleti are enduring a tough campaign and have a battle on their hands in LaLiga to secure qualification for next season's elite European club competition.

Simeone's side should be boosted by Costa's first appearance since November following neck surgery, though.

The former Chelsea striker is in Atleti's 19-man squad to play Liverpool in the first leg in Madrid, although neither Kieran Trippier nor Joao Felix are fit.

Simeone told a pre-match news conference on Monday: "[Costa] is improving, growing, training enthusiastically.

"He is among the 19 players in the squad and has the opportunity tomorrow to play the game."

Atleti have won just one of their past seven games in all competitions, losing the Supercopa de Espana final and crashing out of the Copa del Rey to minnows Cultural Leonesa in that time.

But Simeone insists the mood in the camp is positive ahead of a meeting with the European and world champions.

"I do not see pessimism. I see optimism, emotion," he said. "There is going to be a stadium ready to burst.

"The players really want the match to come, and I see what I like best, which is optimism."

Indeed, Simeone hopes the Wanda Metropolitano can provide the same inspiration for Atleti as Anfield so often does for Liverpool.

"They have a vibrant stadium that will make us suffer when we go there," he said. "But tomorrow, the same thing will happen at the Wanda, and I trust my players a lot."

Jurgen Klopp is expecting a stern test from Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday and does not believe their 2019-20 season has been as bad as suggested.

Atleti have been contenders for European football's top club prize in seasons past but come into this week's clash with Klopp's Liverpool as underdogs.

Diego Simeone's men are fourth in LaLiga, battling to qualify for the Champions League again next season, and are expected to struggle against runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool.

Klopp is not so sure, though, suggesting a transitional season at the Wanda Metropolitano following the departures of Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godin and Lucas Hernandez has been solid enough.

"Playing Atletico is one of the most difficult things in the life of a football player," the Liverpool manager told a pre-match news conference on Monday.

"They are really well organised, a result machine, squeezing results out of each game if possible.

"Yes, people tell me this year is not exactly like that, but it's a transition period – that's normal. They're still fighting with all they have. You don't get a lot of chances. It's really difficult.

"What they played so far in the season was not as bad as people say and has nothing to do with what happens tomorrow, obviously.

"The team that will play better tomorrow and the next game, who fights more, who wants more, will go into the next round – not the team who plays the better Premier League or LaLiga season. It's as easy as that.

"But we are here, and nobody doubts that we are pretty ambitious. We will give it a proper try."

Klopp is not interested in suggestions Atleti play an unattractive style, pointing out it is "successful" and therefore appeals to him.

"I have nothing to say to these people, to be honest," he said. "Attractive football is what is successful. For me, it's attractive.

"It's very intense. It's speed, it's aggressive, it's a clear plan, it's a clear philosophy.

"I know we are in Spain, the country of tiki-taka – maybe people say it because of that – but I am from Germany. I admire things like that. For me, I don't have that discussion."

Klopp expects this intensity to cause Liverpool problems if they slip below their high standards.

"If there's a team where you have to be at your absolute best in all departments, it's Atletico," he said. "There are no presents tomorrow, absolutely no presents.

"If you work hard, as hard as possible, then you have a chance. If you don't do that, you don't even have a chance. That's it."

This attitude extends to Simeone on the touchline, with Klopp adding: "People say I'm emotional at the sideline. If I'm on level four, I would say Diego's on level 12.

"It's like I'm the kindergarten cop against him. It's really impressive. It's over all these years. Eight years, really long, having still this emotional level, wow.

"His teams are always world-class organised. That makes him one of the best."

Steven Gerrard is "really, really interested" to see if action will be taken against Manchester City amid reports a Premier League punishment could see them stripped of their 2013-14 title.

On Friday, City were hit with a two-season ban from European competition and a €30million fine by UEFA for "serious breaches" of its Financial Fair Play regulations.

The club have denied any wrongdoing and immediately announced their intention to lodge an appeal against the ruling with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

A domestic punishment is one possible outcome as the Premier League conducts its own investigation to see if its rules were broken in the four-year period in question, between 2012 and 2016.

The Citizens won the Premier League in 2013-14, finishing two points ahead of Liverpool, meaning any potential retrospective points deduction could benefit the Reds and their former captain, Gerrard.

But with the process set to be a lengthy one, Gerrard is not getting ahead of himself.

"I read that myself," the Rangers manager told reporters when it was put to him that City could face domestic action as a result of their alleged indiscretions.

"We will wait and see. From a UEFA point of view, it is obviously a real strong sentence or punishment. I'm sure they will appeal so we will wait and see what the outcome is on that.

"Then we will see whether the Premier League act from there, but if you look at the severity of the punishment from UEFA, something has gone badly wrong.

"So, I'm really interested to see the outcome of that. Until the [potential] punishment from the Premier League, I won't comment further. But I'm really, really interested in it...for obvious reasons.

"It's all ifs and buts. It is what it is. Manchester City were champions. As I sit here right now, congratulations to them. They are champions. Until things develop, if they develop, it's all ifs and buts.

"I've got nothing to say on the matter. All I say is I'm very interested because of the severity of what UEFA have put out there."

The probe into City's financial affairs was prompted by a series of allegations published by German magazine Der Spiegel in November 2018, which drew on documents purportedly obtained by whistleblowers Football Leaks.

Following an investigation, the Adjudicatory Chamber of UEFA's Club Financial Control Body found City guilty of "overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016", allegations the club denied.

Virgil van Dijk is the key reason Liverpool have surpassed Manchester City in the Premier League pecking order, according to Ruud Gullit.

Netherlands international Van Dijk has been an inspiration for the Reds since joining them from Southampton for a reported £75million in January 2018.

He helped Liverpool to Champions League success last season and the club now lead champions City by 25 points in an extraordinary top-flight campaign, with the defender an ever-present in their 26 matches.

His compatriot Gullit, speaking ahead of the Laureus World Sports Awards, believes the crucial aspect has been Van Dijk's play, coupled with City's struggles to find a reliable defensive option.

"In order to win, all the best teams have a good defence," Gullit said to Omnisport. 

"At Barcelona, with Carles Puyol at the back, they had a good defence. 

"If you don't have that then you can attack all you like but you're always conceding a lot of goals. 

"Pep Guardiola bought four central defenders and they couldn't do it. That was unlucky also with injuries but it is a stable factor to have defenders that can do the things that you need to do.

"A lot of teams don't defend well. So, with Van Dijk, that was an issue that was done [solved]."

He added: "Van Dijk was an example that I was right in Holland. If I say you have to learn how to defend people say, 'You're always with the defending' and things like that.

"But that's where it all started. Now they say you're right, [you can have success] if you have a good defender, and the good thing is it was a Dutch defender." 

Liverpool are away to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie after their 1-0 away win at Norwich City last time out.

Pep Guardiola's future at Manchester City continues to dominate discussions – and it seemingly still remains unclear.

Talk around the Spaniard has intensified after City were handed a two-season Champions League ban by UEFA for "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play rules, although they deny wrongdoing and intend to appeal.

But will Guardiola, who is contracted at the Etihad Stadium until 2021, stay or go?

 

TOP STORY – GUARDIOLA TO STAY AT MAN CITY DESPITE BAN

Guardiola will remain at City next season whether they have their ban overturned or not, according to the Mirror.

However, Tuttosport reports the chances of the former Barcelona head coach leaving City are "70 per cent".

Guardiola has reportedly suggested previously he intends to honour his contract at City.

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea are making their move for Jadon Sancho. France Football reports the Premier League club have started talks with the Borussia Dortmund star, who has attracted interest from numerous European giants, including Manchester United.

- Staying at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea are set to pay £23million (€27.7m) for Inter midfielder Matias Vecino at the end of the season, according to the Daily Express.

- After strong links during the close season, Bayern Munich's interest in Manchester City attacker Leroy Sane has cooled, according to Kicker. Sane tore his anterior cruciate ligament in August.

- Staying at Bayern and Kicker reports the Bundesliga giants are keeping tabs on Liverpool's interest in RB Leipzig forward Timo Werner. Werner has been linked with the European giants after scoring 20 goals in 22 Bundesliga games this season.

- Alexander Isak's form for Real Sociedad this season is leading to interest, but Mundo Deportivo reports clubs wanting the forward at the end of the campaign must pay €70m. Former club Borussia Dortmund reportedly have an option to buy Isak for €30m, but that only comes into play in 2021.

- Real Valladolid defender Mohammed Salisu has impressed this season and the 20-year-old is on Atletico Madrid's radar, according to Marca.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp spoke of his respect for Diego Simeone ahead of a trip to the Wanda Metropolitano, saying he had a similar story to the Atletico Madrid head coach.

The Premier League leaders visit Atletico in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday.

Liverpool return to the scene of their victory in last year's final, and they are preparing to face an Atletico side that are struggling.

But Klopp remains wary of Simeone and Atletico, who have just one win from their past seven games in all competitions.

"Their goal difference [in LaLiga] is they have scored only 25 which is not too many, but have conceded only 17, which is low," he told UK newspapers.

"They have had massive injury problems in recent weeks, a lot of strikers missing. But [Alvaro] Morata was on the bench [against Valencia on Friday], I've heard [Diego] Costa is back in training and Joao Felix is available I'm pretty sure.

"If somebody can play for a result, it's Atletico. Mr Simeone, who I respect a lot, he tries everything.

"We have a similar story a little bit. We tried a lot and didn't win, but we still tried. I like that. He is so competitive – wow! Actually, we have a good relationship but I'm pretty sure he will forget that on the touchline because he is so animated."

While facing Atletico away shapes as being tricky, the Wanda Metropolitano will bring back happy memories for Liverpool after their win over Tottenham in last year's final.

But Klopp said his side – who are 25 points clear atop the Premier League – were focused on their task.

"We know that it's just a stadium, but it's a positive emotion that we have when we think about that stadium," he said.

"It was one of our greatest nights and I'm pretty sure that when the boys will go in they will see it.

"But we are not going there for a pilgrimage. For sure not. We have had enough time to let these things settle."

Lionel Messi and Liverpool are among the front-runners for prizes at the prestigious Laureus World Sports Awards in Berlin on Monday.

Liverpool are up for two gongs after a wonderful year, as they won the 2018-19 Champions League and took a massive leap towards a first top-flight title in 30 years.

Jurgen Klopp's side look set to break a host of records this season, as they have dropped points in just one of their 25 matches and hold a remarkable 22-point lead over defending champions Manchester City in second.

The Reds are in the running for two prizes in the Laureus Sports Awards' 20th anniversary gala – World Team of the Year and Comeback of the Year, the latter on account of their astonishing Champions League semi-final turnaround at the expense of Barcelona.

Among those challenging Liverpool for the former are the United States' Women's football team and the Toronto Raptors, who became the first Canadian franchise win an NBA championship.

A selection of sporting superstars are up for the Sportsman of the Year award, with Barcelona and Argentina icon Lionel Messi among them following his record-breaking sixth Ballon d'Or.

Also in the running is Eliud Kipchoge after the Kenyan became the first athlete to run a marathon in under two hours last October, covering the 26.2 miles in one hour, 59 minutes and 40.2 seconds in Vienna.

Ballon d'Or Feminin winner Megan Rapinoe is among those in the hunt for the Sportswoman of the Year gong, although gymnast Simone Biles also has a compelling case.

The 22-year-old last year won five gold medals at the World Championships to become the most decorated gymnast in the event's history, and has won this award twice before, in 2019 and 2017.

The event will take place at the Verti Music Hall in Berlin on Monday. Below is a complete list of the awards up for grabs and the athletes nominated.

Sportsman of the Year

Eliud Kipchoge – Athletics
Lewis Hamilton – Formula One
Lionel Messi – Football
Marc Marquez – MotoGP
Rafael Nadal – Tennis
Tiger Woods – Golf

Sportswoman of the Year

Allyson Felix – Athletics
Megan Rapinoe – Football
Mikaela Shiffrin – Skiing
Naomi Osaka – Tennis
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – Athletics
Simone Biles – Gymnastics

 

Team of the Year

Liverpool – Football
Mercedes-AMG – Formula One
South Africa – Rugby Union
Spain – Basketball
Toronto Raptors – Basketball
United States Women – Football

Breakthrough of the Year

Andy Ruiz – Boxing
Bianca Andreescu – Tennis
Coco Gauff – Tennis
Egan Bernal – Cycling
Japan – Rugby Union
Regan Smith – Swimming

 

Comeback of the Year

Andy Murray – Tennis
Christian Lealiifano – Rugby Union
Kawhi Leonard – Basketball
Liverpool – Football
Nathan Adrian – Swimming
Sophia Florsch – Formula Three

Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability

Alice Tai – Swimming
Diede de Groot – Wheelchair Tennis
Jetze Plat – Triathlon
Manuela Schar – Wheelchair Racing
Oksana Masters – Cross Country Skiing
Omara Durand – Athletics

 

Action Sportsperson of the year

Carissa Moore – Surfing
Chloe Kim – Snowboarding
Italo Ferreira – Surfing
Mark McMorris – Snowboarding
Nyjah Huston – Skateboarding
Rayssa Leal – Skateboarding

Liverpool's match-winner Sadio Mane made the "perfect" return from injury at Norwich City - and now he looks primed to face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp was delighted with the impact of Mane, with the Senegal forward returning from his hamstring setback to strike a stunning late goal at Carrow Road.

A 1-0 win moved Liverpool 25 points clear of second-placed Manchester City, preserving their record of having dropped only two points all season in the Premier League.

Mane and James Milner both came off the bench after recent lay-offs to play their part in Liverpool's 25th win in 26 league outings this term.

Klopp said: "It helps when you have such quality on the bench to bring on."

Now Liverpool turn their focus to Tuesday's first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie, a trip to the Wanda Metropolitano to take on Diego Simeone's Atletico.

"Sadio could have started, of course," Klopp said, "but I wanted to have a free decision for Tuesday actually.

"I don't think too often and too much about these games, but when two players are back from injuries, like Sadio and Fabinho, you don't think they can play two games. [Don't think they] should play; can, yes, if you have to, but should play.

"And the quality of the other boys is just too big that you have to push somebody through. It was perfect for Sadio to get a few minutes. It looked like he was ready, yes."

Klopp stressed Liverpool's performance in windswept Norwich was not perfect and spoke of the team playing "two or three or four long balls too many".

"Obviously our midfield was sometimes surprised by the long balls of our centre-halves and just couldn't push up early enough or quick enough, so we didn't win the second balls and all these kind of things," Klopp said in his post-match news conference.

"You need to get used to circumstances and after 45 minutes we knew how it feels. More information from us at half-time and we could improve, that was obviously much better then second half.

"We had so many counter-press situations where we won the ball back, where we put them under pressure, kept them under pressure and scored a wonderful goal. That's it."

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson set up Mane's winner with a long pass that the striker took down skilfully before turning and firing past Tim Krul.

Speaking to Liverpool's official website, Henderson said: "It was a fantastic run from Sadio, great touch and a great finish – fantastic goal from him.

"It's good that Sadio is back after his injury and he's straight on the scoresheet, so nice to have him back and nice to get the three points."

Henderson added: "We've got to recover quickly, we've got another big game in midweek against Atletico Madrid which will be another tough test, so we've just got to go there and do everything we can to get a good result."

Jurgen Klopp expressed sympathy for Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City players after UEFA hit the Premier League champions with a two-season ban from European competition.

City swiftly announced their intention to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after Friday's punishment, which relates to breaches of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations between 2012 and 2016.

Klopp's Liverpool were involved in a titanic title battle with City last season, missing out by 97 points to 98 in the final reckoning, but Saturday's 1-0 win at Norwich City extended their advantage this time around to a scarcely credible 25 points.

However, a burgeoning generational rivalry could be set to meet an abrupt end if the sanctions against City force a hasty rebuild at the Etihad Stadium.

Guardiola also competed against Klopp when the duo led Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and the Reds boss expressed admiration for the Catalan tactician after full-time at Carrow Road.

"It was a shock when it came out. Completely, 'Wow, what's that'?" he told Sky Sports.

"I'm a football guy, I can only speak about football and what Pep has done since he was in England is exceptional.

"All the rest I have no idea. At the moment I can imagine it is really difficult for the sports people to understand.

"You believe the people you work for and then someone else sees it completely differently.

"I really feel for Pep and the players. It's the first verdict, they will appeal and we will see what happens then.

"It’s obviously serious because UEFA would not react like that [otherwise]. The football City played was exceptional and is exceptional."

Klopp felt Liverpool were anything but exceptional before half-time against the Premier League's bottom side but Sadio Mane's introduction with half an hour to play proved decisive – the returning Senegal international scoring a fabulous winner 12 minutes from time.

"It was a difficult game for different reasons," Klopp said. "The wind, the organisation of the opponent and the way we played in the first half.

"The distance between the line was too big, we were a little bit too early with our long balls in behind.

"That's not exactly like how we wanted to do. The counter-press was not there because we did not press up.

"We had nice situations, good set pieces but not much more.

"We improved, Trent [Alexander-Arnold]'s positioning was higher. We were much more compact and could win the ball in the counter-pressing situations.

"Then we brought on Fabinho and Sadio – one was important for the organisation, gave Hendo [Jordan Henderson] the freedom to be more involved offensively, and Sadio was fresh and made the difference."

The moment Sadio Mane powered his size eight left boot through the ball to sink Norwich City was one of sheer inevitability, another challenger dismissed, that first Premier League title for Liverpool surely just weeks away now.

But what a peculiar contest it was at Carrow Road, Liverpool grinding away in a low gear, wearing down opponents they expected to crack, and who duly did.

Liverpool and Norwich don't play out low-scoring games, went the theory. We thought of Luis Suarez habitually ripping apart the men in yellow and green, the absurdity of Liverpool's 5-4 win at this ground in 2016, and more recently of the 4-1 spanking dished out to the Canaries on the opening evening of this season.

An eye-catching Opta pre-match statistic said that of the 359 fixtures to have been played more than 10 times in the Premier League, Norwich versus Liverpool had the highest goals-per-game average - 68 goals being plundered in 17 games.

But this never looked like following the four-goals-a-game average, and it would have been easy to daydream through the first 45 minutes.

Liverpool, mindful of their Champions League trip to Atletico Madrid next Tuesday, were not minded to direct the full might of their arsenal at their hosts, and Norwich are burdened by a nagging fear factor when it comes to the men in red.

They last enjoyed a victory over Liverpool in April 1994, when Jeremy Goss clattered a brilliant goal to secure a 1-0 win at Anfield, in the last match Liverpool played at their home ground before the famous Kop terrace was demolished.

It was the same week that saw Nelson Mandela elected as South Africa's president. One day after Goss and Norwich spoiled the party at Liverpool, sport was struck by tragedy when Ayrton Senna died after a crash at Imola during the San Marino Grand Prix.

A quarter of a century later, and Liverpool see sitting ducks when they clock the yellow in those Norwich shirts.

So it is 25 wins from 26 games for Jurgen Klopp's Reds in this season's top flight, and a 25-point lead over Manchester City, which is now the least of Pep Guardiola's worries.

When Liverpool last won the English title - the old First Division - their 1989-90 campaign contained the anomaly of two goalless draws against Norwich.

They won the league with 79 points from 38 games that term, finishing nine points clear of nearest rivals Aston Villa.

Now they have 76 from 26 and are heading for all sorts of records, especially if teams such as Norwich present themselves, flap and flounder and let an off-colour Liverpool pilfer the points.

Lukas Rupp effectively tripped over Norwich's team-wide insecurities when he bolted clear of the Liverpool offside trap late in the first half. Confronted with Allison, Rupp looked like a little boy lost and bungled a short-range pass to Teemu Pukki.

Liverpool cooked up a series of chances after the break, with Tim Krul heroically keeping the home side in the game before Alex Tettey rattled the outside of Alisson's right post from 25 yards. Alisson possibly had the ball covered.

Mane, returning from injury, came off the bench and injected a spark before rattling in the winner. He expertly took down a long pass from Jordan Henderson, turned sharply and lashed a left-footed shot past Krul.

Never doubt this Liverpool. The goal came in the 78th minute, but in another sense it had been long coming.

Klopp said the win was "outstanding" and his team - "these wonderful football players" in their manager's words - are almost over the line.

Their lead is "insane", Klopp said.

It's only February, but check the reality of this extraordinary situation, which on Saturday saw Norwich fans keenly posing for pictures with Klopp.

We're already witnessing a lap of honour.

Sadio Mane made a goalscoring return for Liverpool, coming off the bench to snatch a 1-0 win for the runaway Premier League leaders at Norwich City.

Jurgen Klopp's side were on top for long spells but ceded a clear chance in each half to the Canaries – Lukas Rupp botching a one-on-one and Alexander Tettey hitting the post.

Mane duly helped the Liverpool attack shift through the gears and stepped up with the winner 12 minutes from time.

The lead at the summit is now a gigantic 25 points for Klopp's rentless Reds.

Liverpool dominated possession and pushed their hosts back for the majority of the opening period but created little of note, save for a pair of sighters from the all-action Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Indeed, Norwich enjoyed the best opening of the half, only for Rupp to miss a simple pass to Teemu Pukki that allowed a scrambling Alisson to claw to safety.

Todd Cantwell fired into the side netting from a tight angle in the 52nd minute amid some ragged moments creeping into Liverpool's play, although a Naby Keita piledriver tipped over by Tim Krul showed their threat remained.

Krul excelled himself with a brilliant double save from Mohamed Salah and Keita before the hour, after which Mane's introduction from the bench gave fresh impetus to the Reds' attack.

Grant Hanley was forced to hack out of his own goal mouth in the 71st minute before Norwich surged forward on the break and Tettey almost caught out Alisson, firing a snapshot against the outside of the right post.

Hanley then miscued a free header from Ondrej Duda's corner and Daniel Farke's side would regret not making the most of that flurry.

Mane got the run on a tumbling Christoph Zimmermann – the centre-back picking a woeful moment to stain an otherwise towering display - to collect Jordan Henderson's raking ball and lash home a forceful left-footed finish.

Roberto Firmino could have ensured a nerveless finale but ballooned Alexander-Arnold's drilled cross over from close range in the 86th minute.

 

What does it mean? Reds' record charge remains on course

Liverpool are set to break a host of Premier League records on their march to glory and 17 consecutive Premier League wins means they are now only one behind Manchester City's all-time mark from the 2017-18 season. Norwich are seven points from safety at the foot of the table and entitled to feel slightly aggrieved over having nothing to show for their efforts.

Sadio on the Mane

Klopp getting Mane back in time for the return of the Champions League represents a huge boost. The verve and invention he injected into Liverpool's efforts here was palpable and decisive.

Oxlade-Chamberlain fails to press his claims

Filling in for any of Liverpool's much-vaunted front three is a thankless task and it was no surprise to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's number raised to make way for the returning Mane with half an hour remaining. The England international failed to make an impression on the contest, although a chunk of credit should go to Max Aarons, who excelled at right-back for the Canaries.

What's next

Liverpool travel to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday to resume their Champions League defence, with their next Premier League assignment coming at home to West Ham a week on Monday. Norwich travel to Wolves in eight days' time.

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