On the last day of the 2017/18 Premier League season, the Reds welcomed Brighton & Hove Albion to Anfield.
Liverpool realistically needed only one point to secure the return of Champions League football to Anfield next season, while the visitors had absolutely nothing to play for. Being unable to achieve anything more, they will be quite happy with the fact that they’ve secured Premier League survival after getting promoted last summer. Meanwhile, Chelsea, who beat Liverpool at Stamford Bridge in the previous round, were hoping Jurgen Klopp’s men would fail utterly in order to get any kind of a chance of top-four placement for themselves.
Sadio Mane picked up a slight knock in the above-mentioned Chelsea game and was a doubt, but he was ready in time for this one. Long-term absentees Joel Matip, Joe Gomez, Emre Can and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were out of contention. On the other hand, the manager declared Adam Lallana fit in the pre-match presser. But, in the end he decided to leave the senior England international on the bench and give this game to young Dominic Solanke to try and prove he can perform at this level.
For the Seagulls, Izzy Brown and Steve Sidwell were out with a knee and back injury respectively, while striker Glen Murray was back on the bench for this trip, having served as an unused substitute previously against Manchester City.
These are the line-ups chosen by Klopp and Chris Hughton to wrap the season up:
The First Half
After an underwhelming performance a week earlier at Stamford Bridge, this was more like the Liverpool we all know and love. The Reds utterly dominated the game from the first whistle. The game was being played in or around the Brighton box almost constantly, and the visitors were simply dumbfounded by the quality they were up against on this day at Anfield.
The formation was announced as a 4-2-3-1, with Solanke up front and Firmino as the No.10, but it looked far more like a classic 4-4-2 with Firmino close enough to Solanke to be considered a striker as well.
It would take far too long to describe all the chances the Reds created in the first half, so it will do to say that the Seagulls were really really lucky to go to the break only two goals down. It should also be said that the Reds had several strong penalty shouts but referee Kevin Friend perhaps wasn’t allowed to help Salah get away from Harry Kane in the Golden Boot race. Mane had a one-on-one with Matt Ryan twice, and while the first time the Brighton goalkeeper got the better of him, the second time he tried to be unselfish and help Mo Salah clinch the Golden Boot without a doubt, but he made the pass too short.
Firmino also had a few good chances but his finishing was a little wayward; even Robertson got himself into a good position on one occasion. Meanwhile, Brighton had a single shot in the half, a hopeful attempt by March to surprise the stadium from around 25 yards, but the ball flew straight at Loris Karius.
As for the two goals…
In the 26th minute, Trent Alexander-Arnold played a good low pass down the middle to Solanke just inside the box and the young striker extended it a bit further to Salah. Salah then coolly poked it into the bottom corner from around 10 yards with Ryan remaining motionless. It was his 32nd league goal of the season, which means he has made history as the player to score the most goals in a 38-game Premier League season ever. His 44th in all competitions.
Five minutes before the break, Liverpool took a corner, the Brighton defence cleared their box, Salah picked it up and set Robertson up for a cross. The left-back swung it in, finding Lovren running completely unmarked. The Croatian flew up and slammed the header past the once-again motionless Ryan and into the net.
The Second Half
After the break the game developed in a similar way, at least when it comes to the balance between the teams. The difference was in its pace though, as Liverpool now played slowly and patiently, keeping the ball for as long as needed and controlling the proceedings to the full. But when opportunity arose they didn’t hesitate to burst forward and try to add to their lead.
One such moment occurred four minutes after the break. Firmino stole the ball in Brighton’s half, carried it a few steps and smacked it on target from around 30 yards, prompting a very good save from Ryan. It should be said that the Brighton ‘keeper, linked once in the past with Liverpool, had a good game – probably their best performer on the day.
In the 53rd minute March had another go for the visitors but it was easily blocked. A lightning-quick counterattack by Liverpool broke. Firmino picked the ball up and gave it to Salah who charged goalwards, danced past a few opponents and slid it in for Solanke who smacked it off the underside of the crossbar, right in the near top corner. It took him long enough but the youngster finally got his first Premier League goal; in a stunning manner.
With 57 minutes gone, Hughton pulled his first move. Locadia and Kayal left the pitch, making way for Glenn Murray and Pascal Gross.
Straight after that, Firmino had a chance to make it four. With the help of some poor defending by Brighton, Salah set the Brazilian up for a one-on-one with Ryan, but the goalkeeper was excellent again.
Six minutes later, a fantastic pass from Alexander-Arnold set up Salah nicely, and as he went around his marker he went down again, though in all fairness it looked like the Egyptian had slipped rather than anything else.
With around 20 minutes to go, some leisurely play at the back allowed Brighton a rare attack. They moved forward in numbers, but it all ended with two of their most advanced players caught offside.
In the 71st minute, centre-back Shane Duffy was forced off due to an injury he had suffered earlier by landing awkwardly on his back. Connor Goldson came on. Two minutes later, Adam Lallana replaced Mane.
After having his season ruined by injuries, Lallana was a joy to watch in this game. Constantly involved, he made life much easier for his teammates while creating nightmares for any Brighton player that happened to be near him.
Danny Ings and Ben Woodburn replaced Firmino and Salah with seven minutes remaining.
Two minutes later, Ings played a nice one-two with Lallana on the left and whipped in a cross into the six yards. Dale Stephens tried to clear it but only got it as far as Robertson who had made a run into the box, and slammed it in. After Solanke, it was Robertson’s first goal of the season as well.
For the remainder of the game, both teams looked like they wanted Friend to blow the final whistle as soon as possible. The visitors lost all drive and were simply working the shift off while the Reds were still in full control, fully satisfied and calm.
And the whistle came after only two minutes of added time.
The Premier League Season Is Over
Like a number of previous campaigns, 2017/18 had its ups and downs for Liverpool, but overall, the improvement cannot be doubted anymore. They have secured successive Champions League appearances for the first time since Rafa’s days. They have kept 17 clean sheets also for the first time since Rafa’s days. They have again finished fourth, but this time they have also reached the Champions League final.
Over at Wembley, Leicester City put up a brave fight aganst Spurs and almost helped Liverpool finish third, but Spurs managed to turn in around in a nine-goal thriller. Anyway, the final standings look like this:
Manchester City have truly had an incredible season in the league, and they fully deserve the title. The round sum of 100 points is truly a remarkable achievement. Swansea, Stoke and West Brom have been relegated, and that’s something we won’t be crying about, seeing as we dropped points this season to all three.
One can’t help but wonder what will be happening with the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal in the near future. Arsene Wenger is no longer the manager at Arsenal, and Roman Abramovich doesn’t seem too keen on spending a lot on players anymore. Antonio Conte is also very likely to leave Chelsea who were beaten by Rafa’s Newcastle by 3-0.
All the signs are pointing at Liverpool’s long-term resurrection as a top club in England and Europe. Jurgen Klopp has done a wonderful job so far. Now we await the arrival of Naby Keita first and foremost, and then we’ll see what other measures the club will take to strengthen the team further.
But first – let’s go win that Champions League trophy again, shall we?
We walk on.