It may not be the Premier League title, but fans should be mighty proud of this Liverpool team, who have successfully qualified for next seasons Champions League after a third-place finish.
To finish third in a season were van Dijk (33 games missed), Joe Gomez (31 games missed), Joël Matip (28 games missed), Naby Keïta (28 games missed), Diogo Jota (19 games missed), Jordan Henderson (17 games missed), Thiago Alcântara (14 games missed) and Fabinho (eight games missed) have all missed substantial game time is truly remarkable. So many key players have been out, yet a result that Klopp and the fans can be proud of has been accomplished.
It was also the last game for Gini Wijnaldum who – after five years at Anfield – will move onto his next step in his career. He has been a brilliant servant to the club and has been pivotal in the major honours that the club has won under Klopp’s stewardship. He will leave a Liverpool legend and will be remembered fondly for all of his efforts. The 10,000 fans in attendance made sure he knew that upon the final whistle.
Touching on that, it was great to see supporters back at Anfield. To hear that roar of the crowd once again was music to the ears, whilst the singing of You’ll Never Walk Alone gave me goosebumps that I hadn’t felt for such a long time. Hopefully, more fans can return by the start of next season, fingers crossed.
With results elsewhere going Liverpool’s way – with defeats for Chelsea and Leicester – a draw would have been enough to get the job done, but instead the team produced a dominant display, brushing aside Roy Hodgson’s team – in what was his final game in management.
The only downside to the afternoon was that Salah was unable to find the goal that would have seen him win the golden boot once again. Despite this personal milestone being missed – Harry Kane winning the award after his goal on the final day – the Egyptian will be extremely pleased with his efforts during the campaign and of course the fact he will be playing Champions League football next season.
Looking back at the match itself, from the first minute it was all Liverpool. Many may have felt that the Crystal Palace players where already thinking of their holidays, but the suffocating pressure the Reds put the Eagles under was key to the dominance that Klopp’s side showed all evening. It was like the return of fans brought the resurrected the efficient Liverpool that has been missing for several months.
It such a make-or-break fixture the Reds left nothing to chance, as Vicente Guaita’s goal was under consistent pressure all afternoon with the Spanish shot stopper performing pretty well under the circumstances. He managed to deny Salah early doors with a couple of strong saves, before Mané forced him into action at his near post. Naturally – as it was the last game of the season and with something relying on the outcome – the crowd started to get nervous. The Reds would respond by putting these nerves at ease minutes later.
After Roberto Firmino won the Reds a corner, Robertson’s set piece was nodded onto the Brazilian at the back post by Rhys Williams. With a firm first touch, Firmino pushed the ball into the path of Sadio Mané, who slid in to swipe the ball home from close range to spark the famous Anfield roar once again just before half time.
With chaos unfolding in the other game involving Champions League chasing teams, Liverpool returned after the break and continued where they left off in the first period. This had shades of the reverse performance (7-0 win at Selhurst Park) – not in goals – but in the control and game management that this side showed. Despite only leading by the odd goal, with time ticking away, I don’t think many fans will have been nervous about the outcome.
Chances continued to fall to Reds players but none where able to find that finishing touch. Alisson on the other hand was – after a busy few weeks – had next to nothing to do and enjoyed the game knowing his outfield colleagues would eventually get the job done. With 15 minutes left, they finished the game was over.
After a ball down the right from Trent Alexander-Arnold, Salah was unleashed to run at the Palace back four, weaving in and out of the players trying to stop him. After a quick one two with Wijnaldum, he found Sadio Mané on the left side of the area with acres of space. After composing himself, the Senegal international struck the ball goalward – and after a significant deflection – flew passed Guaita into the bottom corner.
As a contest it was over. Joy was clearly written all over Klopp’s face. What the team have achieved specifically in the last five weeks to come back from the brink is astonishing. Klopp has always believed that his team could reach the promised land of Champions League football. In a season that has seen the Reds have the worst luck possible, he has manufactured a third-place finish. This is up there with the trophies he has won in my eyes. He continues to work wonders and we are so lucky to have him.
Now with the European Championships and Copa America taking place during the summer, we can now hope all the Liverpool players are successful and come back injury free ready for a run at the Premier League and Champions League titles next term.
Klopp – for the first time in this campaign – named an unchanged team from the side that beat Burnley on Wednesday evening. The big news was the fitness of Jordan Henderson and Diogo Jota, who both made the bench despite being previously ruled out for the season.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
Gini WijnaldumEmbed from Getty Images
What a way to finish your career at Anfield. A masterclass in midfield that was arguably his best performance of the season. He looked calm, composed and in complete control of the game. He and Thiago took the game in the palm of there hands and structured it to their liking.
He was brilliant from the first minute he took to the field and was deservedly given a standing ovation as he was substituted with 15 minutes to go. He was a dominant force that pushed the Palace midfielders into errors consistently, whilst he was the architect of many positive moves going forward.
After the game he was given a guard of honour by the rest of the squad, whilst he was gifted a piece of memorabilia to remind him of his achievements at the club.
He has been the hallmark of the Klopp era since he was purchased from Newcastle in 2016 for £25 million. He has played a pivotal role in the club winning the Champions League, Super Cup, Club World Cup and Premier League and he will be rightly remembered as a Liverpool legend because of this.
The club will now have some task to replace this massive hole in the squad that he leaves. It is important that the club bring in the right person that will gel perfectly with Thiago, Fabinho and Henderson moving forwards, whilst also providing a goal threat from midfield.
As for Wijnaldum, he has announced that he is yet to sign elsewhere as he wanted to stay at Anfield. He will now go to the European Championships and assess the options that come forward. Wherever he ends up going, he will make that team infinitely better. Some team will be getting a gem of a footballer and a person.
Thank you Georginio Wijnaldum. YNWA.
Sadio ManéEmbed from Getty Images
In a campaign where he has struggled for the most part, the Senegal international in the last 5-8 games has returned to some kind of form that we are familiar to seeing. He has generally lacked consistency in his play. In games he has started strong and then faded, however, against Crystal Palace he was terrific and for me, man of the match.
He was a constant threat on that left side, as Joel Ward had a nightmare all afternoon trying to stop him, which he failed to do at any point. The winger looked quick and had confidence in every piece of play that he did. The crowd returning might have worked in the forwards favour as he rose to the occasion.
He was the difference on the day with his brace securing Champions League football for the Reds next season. His first was a wonderful instinctive sweep home from the Andy Robertson corner, whilst his second was clinical strike despite the deflection. Surely, these two goals will lift him going into the next campaign.
A return to form for Sadio Mané is a scary prospect for the rest of the league. Fans will hope is that this was just a season to forget for him and that he will be back to his scintillating best soon. How he performed in this game is what is expected from fans and how he expects himself to perform. With a fully fit starting XI, next season can be a major bounce back season for him. If this is the case, I for one cannot wait to see what he does to the rest of the league.
LosersEmbed from Getty Images
On an evening when all the targets where achieved, everyone did there job perfectly. Therefore, I want to end the season in a positive nature with this article. No-one warranted being within this section. It was an all-round superb performance.
After the season ending injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, attention swiftly switched to how do Liverpool get through the season with minimal damage? Despite the horrendous home run between January – March and the goalless periods, Klopp’s team have achieved something that many thought was impossible. Even Manchester City, as good as they are, would have struggled and possibly even missed the Champions League places if the injuries that hit the Reds had hit them.
I raise my glass to Klopp, the youngsters and fringe players who have played a major part this season and thank them for there efforts. Without them, Liverpool would have been in a very low position indeed and any successes in the future will be indebt to there efforts over the last nine months.
Now with Champions League football secured, I hope everyone can sit back, relax and enjoy the Euros.
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