LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) -Virgil van Dijk and forward Mohamed Salah scored second-half goals as Liverpool battled to a 2-0 Premier League home win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday to boost their hopes of European football next season.
Liverpool climbed into sixth spot in the table on 39 points, ahead of Fulham on goal difference and with a game in hand, but the home side were forced to work hard on a rainy night at Anfield.
"We controlled the game without creating massively, but we found our rhythm back," Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said in a TV interview as his side claimed their third win in an unbeaten four-game Premier League run.
Despite fashioning the first effort on goal in the game, the visitors suffered an early blow when left back Hugo Bueno went down clutching his hamstring midway through the first half and was replaced by Rayan Ait-Nouri.
The best chances of the opening 45 minutes fell to teenaged Liverpool midfielder Harvey Elliott, who steered a header just wide in the 39th minute and followed that up with a bouncing stoppage-time shot that was turned away for a corner.
The 19-year-old was in the thick of things again 10 minutes into the second half, controlling a firm pass from Darwin Nunez and firing another shot goalwards, but again it lacked the necessary power and precision and was easily saved by Jose Sa.
Nunez had the ball in the net for the home side in the 66th minute after a surging run by Diogo Jota, but the Portuguese striker was deemed to have fouled Max Kilman in the build-up after a VAR review and the goal was chalked off.
Van Dijk finally broke the deadlock in the 73rd minute, forcing a save with his initial header from a set-piece, before Jota put the rebound back across the goal for the Dutchman to head home from close range.
Four minutes later Salah used his right thigh to steer home a cross from Kostas Tsimikas to double his side's advantage and take the wind out of the visitors' sails as Liverpool cruised to victory, much to the delight of the home fans.
"You have to break an opponent down step by step, it's not often they make mistakes and you get easy goals in the 420 or something games I've had here," Klopp said.
His side now face a resurgent Manchester United, who are 10 points ahead of Liverpool in third spot, on Sunday.
"It's a big game anyway, against a team in form. We have to be ready, and we will give them a big fight," Klopp said.
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor,Editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond)