You could sense the nerves throughout the stadium for 45 minutes, but eventually Liverpool secured their Champions League return. Nerves turned to cheers as already relegated Middlesbrough crumbled at Anfield. Liverpool are the way back to the return of Champions League football.
As top-four rivals Arsenal were leading against Everton, Liverpool huffed and puffed. They were sterile in attack and jittery at the back for almost 45 minutes. But up stepped Georginio Wijnaldum. His strike in first half injury time lifted the tension. His bursting run into the box and cool finish at the near post settled the nerves.
A trademark Philippe Coutinho curling free-kick six minutes into the second half was just the ticket. His strike was quickly followed by Adam Lallana slotting in. This provided the Reds with a comfortable cushion to enable them to coast to the final whistle.
The Return Of Champions League Football
What we should be saying though is that Liverpool have qualified for the Champions League qualifying game. Actual return to the Group stages is of course not guaranteed. Fourth place was confirmed as Manchester City thrashed Watford. Having come this far, surely the Reds won’t fail to reach the group stages?
Manager Jurgen Klopp was all smiles at the end of the match. As is now a normal end to a match, he congratulated his players for efforts. The team’s display however underlined the need for significant summer investment. Watching owner, John W Henry, will no doubt have noticed this himself. If Liverpool get through their qualifying game it will be their first Champions League appearance since the 2014/15 season.
That season however, the challenge fizzled out in the group stages. Brendan Rodgers’ side struggled without the departed Luis Suarez and were found wanting. If Liverpool’s first half performance is to be the norm, then a similar fate will ensue.
What now seems to be the norm, Liverpool struggled against deep-lying opposition. Another recurring problem also raised it’s ugly head. The soft centre of their defence was almost exposed when Patrick Bamford got the wrong side of Dejan Lovren and had a strong claim for a penalty denied.
Approaching half time however, Wijnaldum’s powerful opener changed the whole mood. The fans in the stands seemed more relaxed as did the team on the pitch. The second half interchanging between Roberto Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana was close to Liverpool at their scintillating best.
Squad Strengthening Is A Must
It is important though that Liverpool recognise their shortfalls. It is imperative that they add the necessary recruitments to recreate that form more consistently. If, as hoped, they enter the bigger stages next season, the squad will not be so much stronger. Credit to Jurgen Klopp and his team though in collecting an impressive 76. This tally ensured finishing the season above Arsenal and Manchester United.
Although no silverware was on display it is felt that this is a successful season though. The target has always been to reach the Champions League. So, from a League viewpoint Liverpool have achieved that. Surely the aim next season will to be bigger and better. Let’s hope there are more exciting times ahead.
You can see the highlights of this important season finale here……Liverpool are heading to the return of Champions League football.