Liverpool should have had a top four spot locked up a long time ago, but a series of poor results against bottom half sides meant it wasn’t until last weekend a Champions League place began to feel secure. And it still isn’t, at least not entirely. A victory over Middlesbrough this Sunday may still be necessary.
Against an already relegated side, though, at Anfield in the final game of the season, a top four finish feels if not completely certain than at least almost so, and Jürgen Klopp believes that the pressure of recent weeks has helped his side to become better. That it’s something that, at times, they can even find joy in.
“We are professional football players or managers,” he noted when speaking to the club’s official website following Sunday’s victory. “We always want to win games; we will always have this pressure. There is still space to enjoy football, and I saw a lot of joy. We did really well [against West Ham] and we helped ourselves.”
Klopp has previously noted that feeling pressure at this time of the year means you’re still playing for something that matters rather than simply seeing out the season, and if all the pressure of the past few months ends with a top four finish, it will be hard to argue too strenuously against the point.
It could also mean a squad that’s more mentally prepared to handle the pressure in Europe next season, when—assuming they’re in the Champions League—the expectation would be, at a minimum, to make it out of the group stages in Europe and to retain a top four place in the Premier League.
“That’s our job to do,” he added. “I really thought the boys did really well. The start of the second half, that was real football. We decided the game, we controlled it. Now we have to recover again and to do our best again against Middlesbrough.”