Anfield in celebration mode as Liverpool secure top four and Salah receives more awards
A good season can yet become a great one, with Klopp's side contesting the Uefa Champions League final and they warmed up for Real Madrid with a 4-0 win over Brighton
They are used to cheering Salah at Anfield. Just not this particular Salah. A few minutes after Liverpool’s domestic season ended with the objective of securing Uefa Champions League football accomplished in style, perhaps their greatest player was on the hallowed turf presenting yet more prizes to the current idol.
Kenny Dalglish was bestowing gifts as Mohamed Salah added the Golden Boot and the Premier League player of the year award to his PFA and Football Writers’ accolades. He has a clean sweep of the individual honours and as Makka, his young daughter, kicked a ball around, her every was touch met with vocal approval.
It was that sort of occasion, a day to celebrate with much to savour. It ended with a host of children joining the players on a lap of appreciation, many bearing the names and numbers of their fathers, others the increasingly familiar combination of “Salah” and “11”.
The rapacious Salah added another record, becoming the first man to score 32 goals in a 38-game Premier League season.
Brighton and Hove Albion were beaten 4-0 and, with Shane Duffy making a goal-line clearance and Mathew Ryan several fine saves while Liverpool spurned a series of chances and referee Kevin Friend missed a clear penalty, they could count themselves fortunate to be spared a heavier defeat.
Liverpool do not yet know precisely how successful this season is – the Champions League final will dictate that – but it already marks a seismic step back towards where they were and forwards to where they want to be.
While two former managers, Dalglish and Gerard Houllier, watched on, the name of a third was chorused. Rafa Benitez was acclaimed because his Newcastle United beat Chelsea 3-0, though, after 147 consecutive days in the top four, Liverpool’s victory meant they could not be caught by the deposed champions.
The Spaniard had a different significance. It was under him, in 2008/09, that Liverpool last qualified for the Champions League while competing in it. They have struggled to balance different priorities since then.
Jurgen Klopp was conscious an asterisk was applied to their top-four finish 12 months ago amid the sense it was rendered easier by a lack of European commitments.
In contrast, this was a feat of endurance that brought a second comparison with 2008/09, the previous campaign Liverpool completed unbeaten at home in the Premier League; if draws have been a frustration at times, Klopp has nonetheless made Anfield a fortress again.
He inherited a sterile side less than three years ago. Now Liverpool’s season has produced 134 goals, a quartet against Brighton a sign of their potency and Klopp’s positivity.
A theme of recent weeks has been a lack of available midfielders. With James Milner ruled out – “Milly the machine,” as his manager called him, will be fit to face Real Madrid – Klopp was down to a fully-fit duo.
He compensated by including an extra striker, in Dominic Solanke, who operated in front of the triumvirate of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Salah. The Brazilian’s radar was awry and the Senegalese showed a lack of conviction in front of goal, finding Salah rather than shooting when through on goal himself, but the trio still took their combined haul to 90.
If it was a landmark occasion for the Egyptian, it was, in a very different way, for the Englishman. Solanke was excellent in a Firmino-esque display as the altruistic foil, teeing up Salah for his goal and setting up the Brazilian for a chance with a cute backheel.
Unusually, he was also a scorer; when a favour was returned as Salah supplied the slide-rule pass, Solanke thrashed a shot into the roof of the net. Nine months after his debut and 27 games into his Liverpool career, even if the statistics are skewed by substitute appearances, he was belatedly a scorer.
He was not alone in opening his Liverpool account. Andrew Robertson added the fourth with a low drive. More typically, the left-back had set up Dejan Lovren’s header with a cross of pinpoint accuracy. With two goals in each half, Liverpool recaptured their sharpness.
Their pace has powered them to the Champions League football. Now they can go to Kiev spared the pressure of knowing they need to win to play among the European elite again next season.
Published: May 13, 2018 09:46 PM