Liverpool 3 Wijnaldum 45’, Coutinho 50’, Lallana 56’
It’s been a pretty euphoric few hours. The wave of jubilation began somewhere in the 50th minute and kept going well past the final whistle: Liverpool have finished fourth after an exhausting season of ups, downs, injuries, and sheer panic. The season ended with a promise of beautiful things on the horizon, and it’s difficult to contain either excitement or hope for what is to come.
The lead-up to kick-off was one of the most anxious in a while. The third and fourth places were hardly guaranteed going into the last games of the season, and while Liverpool were playing an already relegated Middlesbrough, Manchester City and Arsenal were also looking more than a little dangerous against Watford and Everton, respectively.
The less said about the first half, the better. Liverpool held the lion share of possession through the half, but while Middlesbrough looked mostly harmless any time they came past midfield, so did Liverpool. The hosts aimed quite a few incredibly accurate shots directly at Brad Guzan, who looked like one of the most competent players on the field for the first thirty minutes. Meanwhile, on other laptop screens, City were running Watford ragged and Arsenal were 2-0 up despite being a man down after Laurent Koscielny was sent off in the 14th minute.
Anxiety for Liverpool fans arguably peaked when Patrick Bamford went down in the penalty box, tackled by Dejan Lovren. In a stroke of luck and definitely-objective quality refereeing, a penalty was not awarded to the visitors, and Lovren (and the rest of us) could breathe a little easier.
Finally, in the dying minutes of the first half, Gini Wijnaldum netted an exquisite shot. The assist came from Firmino, who, with his back to the goal, flicked a lazy pass to Wijnaldum who let loose a thunderous shot past Guzan and into the back of the net.
Liverpool in the second half were a team in control. They looked surer on their feet, and more like they knew how to deliver a good game of football. Five minutes into the second, Sturridge won a free kick after he was shoved by Clayton, and Coutinho shot an absolute beauty just past Guzan — who was seconds too late in realising which way the ball was headed — and into the corner of the net. Anfield was on its feet.
Less than five minutes later, the party reached its crescendo when Adam Lallana slid the final nail into the coffin past Guzan to make it 3-0. The play began in Liverpool’s half from a Boro corner when Liverpool broke and surged forward 5-on-3. Wijnaldum headed the ball to Clyne who nudged it towards Lallana who slotted it easily into the net with his left foot.
The game could have ended there at the 56th minute. Klopp was the picture of jubilation, the team were playing beautiful football and looking for a fourth, but clearly already celebrating. Delighted chants were ringing through the stadium. Emotions began to run particularly high towards the end of the half when Lucas came onto the field and took the captain’s armband from Milner when he was substituted. They continued as Sturridge came off the pitch, possibly having played his final game at Anfield.
A satisfying if erratic game to end a satisfying if erratic season. The celebrations will continue in Merseyside far into the night, and they will be very well-deserved. It’s a good time to be a Liverpool fan, with the promise of a bigger and better team, Champions League football, and further success just around the corner.