Liverpool secured their place in next season’s Champions League and a third-placed Premier League finish as they beat Crystal Palace 2-0 at Anfield.
Goals in each half from Sadio Mane helped the Reds spoil former boss Roy Hodgson’s final game in management and claim a place in the top four that looked a distant dream just a few weeks ago.
There was also an emotional farewell for Georginio Wijnaldum, who, with his contract expiring in the coming days, looks to have played his final game for the club.
GET IN, REDSSSSS!!!
Liverpool’s returning fans were given an early scare when a loose Trent Alexander-Arnold pass inadvertently played in Andros Townsend, who should have done better than to miss the target in a one-v-one situation.
But that let-off sparked the hosts into life, with Rhys Williams heading a corner over before Mohamed Salah stung Vicente Guaita’s palms and Mane missed the target from a promising position in quick succession.
The latter in particular looked to be reenergised by the return of supporters, and so it was no surprise to see him react first to toe home a Williams corner flick-on that had bounced off Roberto Firmino.
Mane’s strike proved sufficient to give the Reds the lead at the end of a half that was extended by head injuries to both of their centre-backs – perhaps fitting in the context of their season.
Having no doubt learned at half-time that results elsewhere were going in their favour, Liverpool prioritised control over the desperate search for a second goal.
But they were not finding it too difficult to get into dangerous positions, and eventually grabbed a deserved second as Salah picked out Mane to fire one in off Gary Cahill.
That goal was followed by emotional scenes as Wijnaldum left the pitch to a huge ovation after playing a typically understated by crucial role in another important win for Liverpool.
What does it mean? Reds salvage forgettable season
Liverpool’s title defence may not have gone to plan, but, given the injury problems they have faced this season, Jurgen Klopp will no doubt be delighted to see his side claim a Champions League place that looked incredibly unlikely just a few weeks ago. As for Palace, they face a huge rebuild as the Hodgson era comes to a close, with a number of key players out of contract at the end of this season.
Mane saves best for last
It has been an up-and-down season for Mane at Liverpool, but he ended it in the perfect way with a crucial brace. The Senegalese seemed to be the biggest beneficiary of the return of fans, scoring with two of his three shots, producing three key passes, and regaining possession on five occasions.
Palace needed their main man to put in a big performance if they were going to deny Liverpool and it looked like they would get that when Zaha skipped past Nat Phillips early on before forcing Alisson to save. But that was his final shot of a 90 minutes that saw him take just 24 touches – fewer than any other starter for the visitors.
Key Opta facts
– Liverpool finished the season third, and have now finished in the top four in all five of their full seasons under Klopp; it’s the club’s longest run of finishing as high as fourth in England’s top-flight since doing so in 10 straight campaigns from 1981-82 to 1990-91.
– Palace have lost each of their last eight league meetings with Liverpool, conceding 24 goals in the process (three-per-game on average).
– Mane has scored in eight consecutive Premier League games against Crystal Palace, becoming just the second player to score in eight consecutive Premier League appearances against a single opponent, after Robin van Persie against Stoke.
– No player has provided more assists for Liverpool in all competitions this season than Firmino (9, level with Trent Alexander-Arnold).
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