Liverpool ensured a nightmare season ended on a high, securing Champions League qualification with a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace at Anfield.
In front of a crowd of 10,000, Sadio Mane’s double gave the Reds a precious and comfortable victory, ensuring they finish the season third in the Premier League table.
It is Leicester who miss out on the top four, the Foxes beaten 4-2 by Tottenham at the King Power Stadium having twice led. Chelsea sneak into fourth despite a 2-1 loss of their own away at Aston Villa.
Early nerves settled
Liverpool made a nervy start to the game, and could have found themselves behind early on when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s loose pass sent Andros Townsend racing clear. The Palace winger, though, dragged his shot wide of the far post.
The home side grew into the contest thereafter, and wasted a great chance of their own when Rhys Williams headed Andy Robertson’s corner over the bar from seven yards when totally unmarked.
Vicente Guaita denied Mohamed Salah after a superb pass from Thiago Alcantara, Robertson screwed a shot wide and Mane was wild when set up by Gini Wijnaldum, who was almost certainly making his 237th and final appearance in a red shirt. Wijnaldum was given a standing ovation when replaced by James Milner late on.
The breakthrough came on 36 minutes, Robertson’s corner glanced on by Williams and when Roberto Firmino got a touch at the far post, Mane was there to force the ball home, his 15th goal of what has been a mixed campaign for the Senegal star.
Mane seals it
It was relatively comfortable thereafter, Liverpool able to control proceedings despite the difficulties posed by a swirling wind inside the stadium.
Chances were at a premium, with Palace barely venturing near the Reds’ penalty area and Liverpool unable to convert their dominance.
That changed on 74 minutes when a swift break saw Wijnaldum and Salah combine. Salah fed Mane, and his shot took a deflection en route past Guaita for 2-0.
That killed the game as a contest, though Salah battled hard for a goal which would have earned him a share of the Golden Boot. Alas, it never came, meaning Spurs’ Harry Kane takes the prize.
Liverpool bounce back
After a campaign which threatened to go completely off the rails at one point, Klopp will be proud of his players’ response at the business end of the season.
Liverpool finished on a run of 10 league games unbeaten, eight of them victories, delivering as their rivals have faltered.
They will now enjoy a fifth successive season in the Champions League, and a much-needed financial boost as a result.