Last year, on the last day of the season, the Anfield faithful fretted about as an already-relegated Middlesbrough held the Reds for 45 long minutes. To make matters worse, a resurgent Arsenal had scored 2 early goals over Everton (who were not too keen to do Liverpool any favors on the day), and Liverpool’s Champions League hopes were at risk. Just as it looked like Liverpool would go into halftime empty handed, unlikely hero Georginio Wijnaldum popped up in the box and blasted a shot into the top bin. Liverpool went on to win 3-0, and qualify for the Champions League (which if you haven’t notice, we’ve been quite good in this season).
Sadly, it looks like Liverpool very well might have to rely on similar last-day heroics.
The Reds, as in 2013/14, once again conceded a first half goal in a must-not-lose late season game to Chelsea, and once again could not overcome the deficit. And like last year, it is another resurgent London team on our tails. Last year Arsenal won their last 5 matches to make the last day interesting. This year Chelsea, who have now won 4 matches on the bounce for the first time this campaign, will have to win their last 6 to be in with a shout. And if Liverpool wins against an already-safe Brighton & Hove Albion, Chelsea’s late season efforts will be for not.
The match itself was a bit of a weird one.
Nathaniel Clyne got the nod at right back, and Trent Alexander-Arnold played in a more “natural” midfield position. However, after a season of playing fullback at the highest levels, Alexander-Arnold was frequently struggling with positioning, link-up, and especially his final passes into the box, horribly overhitting several crosses.
Still, Liverpool had the better of things to start the match, with Roberto Firmino finding space in the box to get away a shot from a tight angle. The Brazilian is never shy at trying his luck in such a position, but Courtois was up to the challenge, and no Liverpool player was in position to take advantage of the rebound from the same.
Around the fifteen minute mark, the home side started threatening with some quick counters, and Andy Robertson was being routinely beaten to the touchline, and Chelsea were threatening on crosses and cutbacks.
After a decent Sadio Mane chance from distance came to nothing, former Liverpool loanee Victor Moses is able to beat Robbo once again, this time picking out Giroud, who nods the home side ahead with the one and only goal of the match. It was an easy goal to concede, but it had been coming. Physical and mental exhaustion had clearly caught up with the Reds, and Lovren was left to defend two Chelsea attackers on his lonesome (which went about as well as you’d expect).
Moments later Fabregas nearly doubles Chelsea’s lead, but thankfully his shot from a tight angle goes just wide.
The second half begins without much of note from either side.
On the hour mark, captain Jordan Henderson comes on for Clyne, and TAA drops back to the backline. The captain’s energy and quality of passing is immediately noticeable, despite the rest of the squad practically being dead on their feet.
Not many chances are created in the last half an hour by either side. Chelsea were more than happy (and capable) to sit back and defend their lead. As the final minutes ticked down Dominic Solanke came on, and Klopp threw both him and Virgil van Dijk forward in an attempt to play some Route 1 football.
It nearly worked, with Solanke getting his head to two free headers, but neither tested Courtois.
So now it’s on to next week. Liverpool will still be favorites to secure Champions League qualification, even if Chelsea with their game in hand. A blessed week’s rest should do wonders, as should playing a team with nothing to play for in front of a bouncing home crowd.