CNN  — 

Liverpool took a stuttering step towards its first English league title in 30 years as the champion-elect was held to a goalless draw by Everton in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park on Sunday.

It was not the result that Jurgen Klopp’s men wanted on their return to action after a three-month hiatus, but with a 23-point lead over Manchester City, celebrations will not be long delayed.

Everton, improved under new manager Carlo Ancelotti, came closest to securing victory with Tom Davies seeing his late effort roll against a post and Brazilian striker Richarlison forcing a smart save from Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker.

Tom Davies sees his late effort for Everton roll against the post with Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker beaten in the closing stages of the goalless Merseyside derby at an empty Goodison Park.

Despite concerns over fans congregating near the stadium with Liverpool’s Anfield less than a mile away, permission was given for the match to go ahead at Goodison. But in an empty stadium, the usually fevered atmosphere of the derby was lacking.

Also lacking was clear-cut chances for either side, with Liverpool, leaving a not fully fit Mo Salah on the bench, rarely troubling home goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Joel Matip should have done better from a Trent Alexander-Arnold free kick in the first half and Liverpool started the second half strongly with Roberto Firmino and Naby Keita combining well to set up a chance.

But Everton survived the pressure and came very close to causing an upset in the last few minutes as a clever flick from Dominic Calvert-Lewin was kept out by Alisson with a first-time attempt from Davies striking the woodwork and away.

The draw leaves Liverpool unbeaten in the last 22 Merseyside derbies, but still five points from guaranteeing the coveted English Premier League crown.

The Liverpool manager said his team didn’t create enough chances for the amount of time it possessed the ball.

“Most of the time we were dominant but then they had the biggest chance out of the blue, we were lucky in that moment,” Klopp said.

“Both teams showed it was a derby, even without a crowd,” Klopp said.

Players and officials take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement  before the Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park.

Before the match, both teams took the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and stood for a minute’s silence in honor of those who have died in the Covid-19 pandemic.

READ: 30 years of dreaming: Liverpool’s long wait for the English title

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Chelsea boosts Champions League bid

Earlier on Sunday, Chelsea cemented its grip on fourth place with a 2-1 win at relegation-threatened Aston Villa.

Kortney Hause put Villa ahead against the run of play just before halftime, but after the break it continued to be one-way traffic as Chelsea dominated possession without carving out a string of chances.

Manager Frank Lampard sent on US international Christian Pulisic in a bid to spark his attack and it paid almost immediate dividends as he connected with a Cesar Azpilicueta cross to half-volley an equalizer in the 60th minute.

The winner came just two minutes later as Olivier Giroud was allowed time to turn in the penalty box and his deflected shot beat Orjan Nyland in the Villa goal.

Chelsea's French striker Olivier Giroud scores his team's winning goal as his shot takes a deflection off the boot of the challenging Conor Hourihane to beat Orjan Nyland in the Aston Villa goal.

Villa had a late chance to level as Jota pulled his shot wide, but Dean Smith’s team was well beaten and remains second bottom in the standings.

The victory completed a good week for Chelsea, which has strengthened its squad with the acquisition of RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner, and moved five points clear of Manchester United in fourth spot and only three adrift of third-place Leicester City.

Sheffield United faltered in its bid for a Champions League spot, losing 3-0 at Newcastle, who could be under new ownership by a controversial Saudi-backed consortium.

Manager Steve Bruce admitted before the match that it had been a “distraction” but it did not prevent his side from securing an impressive victory, helped by the second-half dismissal for two yellow cards of visiting defender John Egan.

The lively Allan Saint-Maximin scored the opener soon after Egan departed and Matt Ritchie doubled Newcastle lead with a well-hit strike 14 minutes later.

The icing on the cake for Newcastle fans was the third — a rare goal for Brazilian striker Joelinton, who earlier had missed a cast-iron first-half chance to put his side ahead.

It was his first goal in the league since August 25 against Tottenham and only his fourth of the season following his £40 million ($44 million) move from Hoffenheim last year.

Despite a draw and a loss since the restart of the campaign, Chris Wilder’s United are just two points behind fifth-place Manchester United, which drew 1-1 with Tottenham on Friday.