Liverpool finished the Premier League season in third place after a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace at Anfield.
The Reds knew that they needed a win to secure Champions League qualification over one of Chelsea or Tottenham and they duly obliged thanks to a brace of goals from Sadio Mane and a dominant performance.
For the home team to finish third, just five points off second, in a season where they were decimated by injuries and plagued by misfortune, is a huge achievement and the 10,000 fans inside Anfield created a raucous atmosphere that soundtracked the victory.
Georginio Wijnaldum, captain for the day, also bid farewell to the club and put in a typically understated yet effective display and he was given a warm reception when being replaced late on.
But it was the away team, in their manager Roy Hodgson’s final game in management, that started better. Andros Townsend went close to scoring twice, first through a freekick and then when Trent Alexander Arnold’s errant back pass sent him through, but on both occasions, Alisson came up trumps; first parring his strike and then closing the angle and making the shot — which went wide — tougher.
The hosts improved thereafter and — with Thiago central and pulling the strings in a man of the match display — they ought to have scored twice in quick succession. First, Rhys Williams, who was totally unmarked in the box, flighted a header over the bar, and then golden boot chasing Mohamed Salah shot straight at Vicente Guiata after a subline through ball from Thiago.
But the increased tempo, surely egged on by the crowd, eventually broke Palace’s resolve. An Andy Robertson corner was flicked on by Williams and, from the resulting melee, Mane was sharpest and poked in a scruffy goal from inside the six-yard box.
The Reds pressed and probed for another first half goal, but the final ball — with Wijnaldum guilty of an underhit ball to Mane — was too often lacking and the teams went into the interval with Liverpool leading 1-0.
The second period followed much the same pattern and Liverpool directly a heavy barrage of pressure onto the Palace goal. Only last-ditch defending prevented the Reds from scoring earlier with Salah, in particular, creating ample opportunities with his sharp movement and incisive passing.
The difference in class between the teams was evident and it manifested itself once again with fifteen minutes remaining. A classy move involving Roberto Firmino — who was quiet throughout — Salah and Mane saw the ball worked to the Senegalese international. The best course of action appeared to be shooting towards the bottom right corner, but Mane, using his left foot, aimed for the near post and his shot beat Guaita with the aid of a deflection.
With the anxiety of gaining the result now passed, Liverpool — with Thiago and Alexander Arnold the central architects — played some intricate free-flowing football. The final ball wasn’t perfect but some of the movement and ideas were of a superb variety.
The final whistle blew to a huge roar from the Anfield faithful. Coming third the year after winning the title may seem disappointing and, in many ways, it was. But to manage the psychological strength to overcome huge adversity — the injuries, the misfortune, the personal tragedy — and finish only five points off second is a huge compliment to Jurgen Klopp and his players.
Liverpool team: Alisson; Alexander Arnold, Williams, Phillips, Ro Robertson; Fabinho, Thiago, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Replacements: James Milner for Wijnaldum, Diogo Jota for Firmino and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain for Robertson.