‘Everything feels good at this club’: Jubilant Liverpool are back in the Champions League
Liverpool 3-0 Middlesbrough
Man of the Match: Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)
The Kop sang about Istanbul. They often do, but their choruses had particular pertinence. A club with an indelible association with the Uefa Champions League are again bound for it.
“It is the best tournament in Europe,” said Jurgen Klopp. “There is nothing better maybe in the world. You want to be there. Liverpool needs to be there consistently. In the last 10 years Liverpool was not a part of it too often.”
Now, for just the second time in eight seasons, they should be. Liverpool emphatically booked fourth place, but not before uneasy moments when Anfield appeared plagued by self-doubt and judgments on Klopp’s idiosyncratic approach were being reserved and revised. It served as a fitting end to what has ultimately proved an uplifting campaign.
Middlesbrough were seen off, the afternoon a metaphor for the different directions clubs headed for the Championship and the Champions League are taking. Boro’s players, summing up their season, were initially solid defensively but went down without a whimper. A back four often became a back six. Aitor Karanka may be gone but his influence remained. Boro were relegated with the lowest points and goals totals in their history.
Liverpool could reflect on progress.
“Seventy-six points is an outstanding number,” said Klopp.
Seventy-eight goals is impressive, too, the latest three ensuring that it scarcely mattered that Arsenal beat Everton. Liverpool retained their grip on fourth.
“We deserve this position,” Klopp said. “Everything feels good at this club.”
The feel-good factor was regained in an 11-minute spell either of half-time that yielded three goals. At their best, Klopp’s Liverpool can seem to have an unstoppable momentum.
“When our timing got better we were unbelievably dangerous,” the German said.
Attacking midfielders define his brand of football and they contributed all three goals. The first and most important came from Georginio Wijnaldum, surging into space and hammering a shot past Brad Guzan to conclude a well-worked move.
Sadio Mane has unquestionably been Liverpool’s signing of the season, his catalytic qualities reflected he was presented with their players’ player-of-the-year award by Steven Gerrard before kick-off. For 44 minutes, Liverpool may have wished either was available to offer incision. Then Wijnaldum, a second fine buy, intervened.
He has justified Klopp’s faith – a player with goals against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal had shown an aptitude for the big occasion. This, despite the lowly opposition, was the biggest of all.
Philippe Coutinho, meanwhile, has offered inspiration in the run-in. He has emerged from his winter slump with creativity and class, a seventh goal in nine games on a free kick past Guzan. Adam Lallana has taken longer to return to the scoresheet. His first goal since December was steered in from Wijnaldum’s header.
Thereafter, Liverpool were rampant.
“Now we can celebrate,” Klopp said.
The last half-hour became a footnote. The start was more fraught. For the second successive week, Liverpool survived a penalty appeal. Dejan Lovren tugged Patrick Bamford down. “It was a definite penalty,” said Steve Agnew, perhaps Middlesbrough’s caretaker-manager for the last time. His own future is uncertain. So, too, is Middlesbrough’s.
It was definitely a farewell for Alvaro Negredo and Calum Chambers, perhaps for the unused Marten de Roon and the defiant Ben Gibson, who is too good for the Championship.
The Liverpool fans granted Lucas Leiva a standing ovation when he came on for his 346th and probably last Liverpool appearance. His subsequent speech on the pitch had a valedictory feel.
An adopted Scouser struggled to nominate one highlight from a decade-long stay, which was perhaps in itself a sign that the last few years have constituted one of the bleaker periods in Liverpool’s recent history. With Champions League football, the future seems brighter.
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Published: May 21, 2017 04:00 AM