Liverpool booked a place in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League for next season, with an easy 4-0 win over Brighton at Anfield. Mo Salah and Dejan Lovren put the Reds in command at half-time, before Dominic Solanke and Andy Robertson scored their first goals for the club, to put the gloss on a commanding performance on the final day of the season.
Here are a few talking points from the game.
Mo Salah breaks the record
The King of Egypt went into the last game of the season having not scored in three games. In the context of the season he’s had, that was a rather concerning goal drought.
But, not anymore. Salah scored his 32nd league goal of the season, his 44th overall, to break the Premier League record for the most goals in a single 38-game season. It settled the nerves after a frantic start at Anfield, which saw the Reds miss a few clear-cut opportunities.
It was a fitting end to a stunning return season in England for Salah. He scored against 17 of the 19 other teams in the division – only Swansea and Manchester United failed to be on the receiving end of a Salah goal this season. No other player in Premier League history has scored against as many teams as the Egyptian has done this season.
At this stage, he is just three goals off Ian Rush’s all-time season goalscoring record for the club. A hat-trick in Kyiv would do nicely, Mo! At the start of the season you would have got great odds on that tally on PayPal betting sites!
Wasteful Sadio Mané
If the pre-match rumours were to be believed, Sadio Mané was not going to start this game at all. But he was in the side and took his usual position on the left wing.
But it wasn’t the typical Mané performance. He was dribbling past defenders and getting into fabulous positions with ease, but his passing was visibly off throughout the game.
He only compounded the poor passing with some poor decision-making in the final third. When the game was still goalless, he went through on goal on the right side of the box, and with an easy square pass available, to give Firmino a tap-in, the Senegalese shot straight at Ryan in the Brighton goal.
Later in the half, Mané was through one-on-one with Ryan again. This time, he should’ve shot. Instead, he tried to play the square ball through to Salah and messed up the opportunity.
One would hope that Mané has had his gaffes in this game, and there is none left for Kyiv.
Dominic Solanke has lift-off (finally)
Dominic Solanke hasn’t exactly had a season to remember at Liverpool. He hasn’t had a consistent run of games, and in the minutes that he has got, he hasn’t helped himself, by missing a few gilt-edged opportunities.
But in this game, Solanke provided the Reds with everything Jurgen Klopp would have asked of him. He was strong in his hold-up play, he provided intensity with his pressing, and his decision-making in the final third was largely very good.
He started the game off poorly though, slipping and letting go of an opportunity presented to him by Shane Duffy losing the ball. But he put that behind him, by playing an integral part from then. He assisted Salah’s opening goal, which gave the Reds breathing space, and Anfield a lift.
Soon after half-time, he got himself on the end of Salah’s through ball, and smashed the ball past Ryan, on to the underside of the bar and into the net, to finally score his first goal in Liverpool colours.
Encouraging Sub Appearances
Adam Lallana has had a wretched season with all his injuries, and Danny Ings’s luck (or lack, thereof) is well-documented. But both came on to perform their roles very well today.
Lallana looked sharp for someone who has played as little football as he has over the course of the season. The Cruyff turns were on show (of course), and there was the general hustle that he brings in midfield. He also played a crucial part in the Reds’ fourth goal, by playing an intricate through ball for Ings, who put it into the box before Robertson scored.
For his part, Ings pressed really well, and always offered an outlet by running in behind the Brighton defence. Late in the game, he almost impeccably controlled a long ball coming over his shoulder, but Lewis Dunk was there to clean up in time.
With the squad being as bare thin as it is, both the Englishmen, Lallana in particular, could have a big role to play in a fortnight.
Bring on Kyiv!
The big objective for the season has been achieved. The Reds will be playing Champions League football next season. But the best part of it is that this season isn’t over yet.
Liverpool have one big game left in Ukraine, and after an indifferent run of results in the league, they came up trumps when it mattered, with a superb clutch performance.
Klopp even made it clear post-match, that this was the sort of performance he expected from a well-rested, fully fit side.
So now, he and his players have two weeks to get themselves rested, fully fit and firing ahead of facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final.
The Reds won’t fear anyone, but it really is high-time that Klopp’s wretched record in finals ends. Maybe, bringing good ol’ Big Ears back to Anfield won’t be a bad way to do so.