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Liverpool’s top-4 hopes still alive after late Roberto Firmino equaliser against Aston Villa

LONDON – Liverpool’s hopes of finishing in the top four of the Premier League are still alive but hanging by a thread, after a last-gasp Roberto Firmino goal secured a 1-1 home draw against Aston Villa on Saturday.

The result meant that the Reds remain in fifth place on 66 points with a game remaining, three points behind Manchester United, who have played a game less.

United won 1-0 at Bournemouth and had Liverpool lost to Villa, the Red Devils would have clinched their Champions League spot. Should United claim another point from their final two games, the highest the Reds can finish is fifth and with it a Europa League spot.

Without the German in the dugout, his team went behind early at Anfield.

Ollie Watkins missed a penalty for Villa in the 23rd minute but just five minutes later, Douglas Luiz played the ball into the box and Jacob Ramsey met the cross to score into the bottom right corner.

Cody Gakpo hit back for Liverpool 10 minutes after the break but the goal was ruled out for offside following a VAR (video assistant referee) check.

However, just when all hopes were about to vanish, Firmino, playing in his last Liverpool game before leaving in the summer when his contract ends, struck from close range from a Mohamed Salah pass to make it 1-1.

Over at the South Coast, United’s away form has been poor of late – they took only eight points from their last 27 available on the road before Saturday, but they started brightly against Bournemouth.

A beautifully lofted pass from Christian Eriksen as early as the ninth minute found Casemiro, who acrobatically smashed the ball into the top corner of the net.

The home side refused to back down and nearly equalised midway through the half when Dominic Solanke took a shot in the box, but United goalkeeper David de Gea made a fine save to deny the former Liverpool striker.

The Red Devils pushed for a second goal in the second half, and nearly scored again when substitute Wout Weghorst got to a rebound in the 63rd minute but his shot was saved by Neto.

With 15 minutes remaining, the Bournemouth goalkeeper made another brilliant save from a Bruno Fernandes volley.

It was match of goalkeepers as de Gea, who has won the Golden Glove for this season, was then forced into action again as he stopped Kieffer Moore in a one-on-one situation in the 84th minute.

There were no more goals as United hung on to clinch a previous three points in a hard-fought match.

“The only criticism is we didn’t kill off the game, we had to produce that second goal but that’s the way this team are. It is not easy scoring goals,” said United manager Erik ten Hag.

“It was a great goal from Casemiro. We pinned them back, didn’t let them breathe in the first 25 minutes.

“We defend with 11, that’s why we have so many clean sheets. David made some great saves.

“I don’t care what happens in Liverpool, it’s about us. We have to do the job.”