Liverpool secured the all-important three points needed to qualify for the Champions League thanks to two from Sadio Mane and another clean sheet.
Liverpool 2-0 Crystal Palace
Premier League (38), Anfield
May 23, 2021
Goals: Mane 36′ 74′
Liverpool qualify for the Champions League
As Jurgen Klopp commented before the game, at one point it didn’t even look like Liverpool would qualify for the Europa League this season, so to go into the final day with Champions League qualification in their own hands was an achievement in itself.
Look at the team lineups and the likes of Wilfred Zaha and Jordan Ayew — seasoned Premier League professionals — should be levels above Liverpool’s centre-back pairing of Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams, and they caused them problems early on, but the team has been able to come together in the final weeks of the season to put together an impressive run.
It was title-challenging form again, with a defence that is far from title-challenging quality but has performed admirably with the support of those around it.
More than that, Phillips’ goal and goal-line clearance against Burnley was a vital contribution in itself, and Alisson‘s goalscoring-goalkeeper heroics against West Brom will go down in Liverpool folklore.
Importantly, Klopp’s side were also able to get the job done against Palace, with the pairing of Phillips and Williams keeping another clean sheet, and Sadio Mane netting the goals required.
In the end, Liverpool finished just five points behind second-placed Man United, while Chelsea claimed third despite losing to Aston Villa, as Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester lost to Spurs.
A Sadio Mane brace
The first goal wasn’t pretty, but it was important. Mane was in the right place at the right time to turn home after the ball moved in his direction off Firmino.
It was a poacher’s effort from a player who hasn’t had the run off the ball in recent months, and by his own admission hasn’t been in the best vein of form.
The second had an element of luck, but it was a considered effort given the other options available, and a reminder of how effective the Senagalese can be with his weaker foot.
Mane’s brace today means he has four goals and four assists in his last 10 league games, which isn’t a bad return in terms of goal contributions – after seven and four respectively in his preceding 28 games.
In the end, it was a comfortable 2-0 win for Liverpool, but the importance of the two goals — the first to provide the impetus, and the second to prevent a nervy finale — cannot be underestimated.
On what now looks certain to be Gini Wijnaldum‘s final appearance for Liverpool, he was made captain for the day.
It was almost the perfect start to his farewell game. He had a good opportunity to score, finding himself in a good shooting position on the edge of the area, but instead chose to pass the ball on to an awkwardly positioned Mane.
It would have been reminiscent of his goal against Middlesbrough in 2017, which was important in recent Liverpool history as it meant they qualified for the Champions League for the first time since 2014.
They went on to finish runners up in the competition that following season and that contributed to the winning mentality instilled in Klopp’s team since, and the determination to win the continental competition a year later.
“Gini, veni, vidi, vici” read a banner in the stands, where 10,000 supporters, along with his teammates who were able to give the Dutchman a fitting sendoff with a guard of honour.
Being part of that Champions League, Club World Cup, and Premier League winning team; came, saw and conquered is about right.
He was given an emotional standing ovation as he left the pitch to be replaced by James Milner, waving to the fans as he did so. They sang his name for some time after.
An Anfield atmosphere again
There were only 10,000 of them but at times it sounded like much more than that. Other than the times where it looked like everyone was on their phones checking for results elsewhere!
“We are an emotional football club, an emotional team and we put a lot into the games,” Klopp said before the game when asked what the fans will bring.
“We need be spot on and we need to use every little source we can, and give it a proper try.”
And give it a proper try they did. Confidence boosts arrived in the form of players’ signature songs, while Andros Townsend’s miss at the Kop end was ironically cheered, albeit fairly nervously at that stage of the game.
This is a team that thrives on the presence of fans in the stands, whether home and away, and we hope there will never again be a situation where they are unable to attend.
Next up for many of these players is the Copa America or the European Championships, but those behind the scenes at the club have some work to do during the summer.
Liverpool’s team going into the final games pretty much picked itself, but it’s been far from an ideal situation, squad wise, even beyond the central defensive issues.
Andy Robertson and Mohamed Salah have required bionic qualities to play all these games — with both having played over 4,000 minutes in all competitions — and a number of other players haven’t been able to get the rotation required in such a condensed season.
The important thing is that this remains a Champions League team, and should contain more Champions League quality depth next season.
The return of Diogo Jota and Jordan Henderson to the squad was a late boost, but neither have been available as much as Klopp would have liked this season.
Though Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez will return during the next campaign, it would be a risk to throw them back in for every game as the first-choice players.
Add to this the departure of Wijnaldum, Naby Keita‘s ongoing injury troubles, and little in the way of backup at full-back and striker, and it leaves Liverpool with plenty to do in the transfer market.
It will be interesting to see how they go about it during a summer packed full of international football on both sides of the globe.