Champions Liverpool ended their season in strong fashion after a 3-1 victory away to Newcastle United.
Goals from Virgil van Dijk, Divock Origi and substitute Sadio Mane sealed the win, as the visitors battled back from the concession of an early goal to regular nemesis, Dwight Gayle.
After the celebrations that followed the title lifting ceremony and Wednesday’s win over Chelsea, Jurgen Klopp rung the changes and plumped for fresh legs in the team. Into the side came Neco Williams, James Milner, Origi, Takumi Minamino, and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain.
So many alterations to the line up was always going to stymie the attacking rhythm and the fluency of build-up build play and the Reds were made pay for their laboured start after only 26 seconds.
Van Dijk brought down Allan Saint-Maximin near the halfway line and, from the result free-kick, Jonjo Shelvey picked out Gayle’s run. The striker, after a lengthy VAR check, was found to have been kept onside by Williams and he finished past Alisson to give the Magpies an early lead.
The game was played at a glacial pace and Liverpool, who owned the ball, probed and pushed but the closest they came to a goal in the opening half-hour was when Minamino — who, along with Naby Keita and Milner, was the brightest player in red — forced Martin Dubravka into an excellent save. The Japanese international’s powerfully hit strike looked destined for the top left corner, but the Slovakian pushed it wide to deny him his first Premier League goal.
The flow of the match was tepid and it took another set-piece scenario for the next goal. After the Reds initial free-kick attempt went awry, they struck from the second phase. Oxlade Chamberlain, in the manner of an old school, chalk on the boots winger, powered to the byline before hooking an accurate cross into the box. Van Dijk, who scored at St James Park last season, met the cross and delicately looped the header over Dubravka for the equaliser and the sides went into the interval tied one apiece.
The second half was played in much of the same manner as the first, but the visitors — with Keita conducting play and Williams improved after a few shaky first half moments — upped the tempo and began to pour forward in search of their second goal.
And it arrived just short of the hour mark. Origi, whose poor touch and decisions were a frustrating feature of the game, made amends when he brilliantly curled a 25 yard shot past Dubravka and into the bottom right corner. The Belgian, just like van Dijk, has now scored in consecutive seasons away to Newcastle. Van Dijk’s accurate long ball found Andy Robertson, whose deft touch squared the ball to the Belgian and he did the rest and in spectacular fashion.
Klopp called for the cavalry in the 64th minute with Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino entered the fray in place of Origi, Minamino and Oxlade Chamberlain and the changes paid dividends with only a minute remaining.
Collecting Firmino’s pass, Mane — who ought to win the PFA player of the year award — darted into the box before unleashing a curled effort into the right corner, beating Dubravka all ends up.
It was a goal worthy of the Champions and a fitting way for arguably the most important player in a historic season — a campaign which yielded 99 points — to bring proceedings to an end.
Liverpool team: Alisson; Williams, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Keita, Milner; Oxlade Chamberlain, Minamino, Origi.
Replacements: Jones for Keita, Alexander Arnold for Williams, Mane for Oxlade Chamberlain, Firmino for Minamino, Salah for Origi.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.