LIVERPOOL 3-0 Middlesbrough
Liverpool finished their season on a high by defeating their opponents, keeping a clean sheet and claiming 4th place.
Jurgen Klopp would keep a familiar side, with only Firmino returning to action after injury and Sturridge staying in the starting 11. Origi would be moved to the substitute bench.
This fixture was as important as any we’ve played this season and the boys in Red didn’t let us down. With Champions League qualification at stake, it was always a must win game. As Liverpool player Middlesbrough, Arsenal were playing our hometown rivals Everton and Manchester City were up against Watford, with both Arsenal and Man City looking to claim a top 4 place ahead of Liverpool. We would do what was needed, but we sure did it the hard way. Liverpool were drawing 0-0 until late in the first half as Arsenal began beating Everton 1-0 and City were scoring four times in their first half against Watford. We couldn’t get a goalless draw and still claim 3rd or even 4th, that was for sure. We had to score and win and we would do just that.
Goals from Georginio Wijnaldum, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana meant that Jurgen Klopp in just his 2nd season in charge has guided the Reds into a top 4 position for the 2nd time in the last 7 seasons.
The result saw Arsenal miss out on Champions League football for the first time in 20 years by finishing 5th, while Manchester City will join Liverpool in playing Europe’s elite after they finished third.
Liverpool’s 4th place European qualification is not “automatic” (like winning a trophy and being placed directly into the competition) – Liverpool will be seeded in the “non-champions” section of the draw for their Champions League action. Non-Champions? In the Champions League? Confusing, isn’t it? But, basically it just means we’ve avoided having to face the toughest possible opponents in the earliest stages of the competition. It’s a good thing. There will be a two-legged play-off in August to make the Champions League group stage and Liverpool could face the likes of Hoffenheim, Napoli or Sevilla. None of these teams are 100% confirmed to be drawn against us just yet but those are some real possibilities of European clubs that have done just as well in their leagues as Liverpool have done in the English Premier League.
More specific details about who we will face for that two legged play-off in the future, but for now just know that we’ve done what Brendan Rodgers had been failing to do, part of the reason he was fired and Klopp replaced him. We’re back in the Champions League, back in a top 4 Premier League position by the end of the season.
Back to the game
The goals in our fixture with Middlesbrough were special, every one of them. With so much at stake, Liverpool were under a lot of pressure to score and we’d end up doing it after some of our main rivals were already making a start on that. It meant all our fans were extremely nervous as we were to make a start on getting a much needed win.
Middlesbrough were already relegated to the Championship before the game had kicked off and there would be no saving themselves from that fate. The worst thing they could do would be to keep a clean sheet against Liverpool and they seemed to be playing for a goalless draw in most of the 1st half. Their defense was deep and they just sat back to stop our attacks without even trying to score themselves mostly, though they scared us a couple of times.
The nervousness could have gotten so much worse in the 22nd minute as referee Martin Atkinson denied Middlesbrough a penalty when Dejan Lovren was seen to have brought Patrick Bamford down to the ground within the penalty area as he tried rushing past our defender, only to be physically stopped from making his way any further towards Simon Mignolet. Liverpool fans will certainly know Lovren to be a fair player, not one given to regularly using “dirty” tactics or deliberately fouling our opponents. It was hard to tell if it was a dive but the referee at least thought Lovren was not to blame if Middlesbrough’s attackers crashed into Liverpool’s defenders. No penalty and the score would remain 0-0.
With half time approaching, Liverpool looked like they’d have spent 45 minutes without scoring and there were fears that the 2nd half would bring exactly the same – 45 more minutes with no goals. That would have been unacceptable. However, Gini Wijnaldum would take all our fears away as one of the last attacks of the half brought us the peace of mind with no fear we needed badly. A clever flick from Firmino would see Gini collect the ball, move deep through the penalty area and smash a low and powerful shot past the goalkeeper and into the net.
Hit hard and accurately, this was more than just a lucky shot. It was placed with precision and was ultimately, the beginning of what we had needed to do – defeat our opponents and claim 4th place. Technically, Arsenal and Man City had already pushed us down to 5th place as the games were being played and goals were being scored, though table positions don’t really move around until all games have been played for the full 90 minutes and the points from the games attributed to the table. Still, with the other teams looking like they would get wins and the whole “this is how the table would look if the teams get THIS result”, Liverpool rushed right back up to 4th again by half time and fans felt easier about the 2nd half with being in the lead already as the referee blew his whistle for the break.
After half-time, Liverpool were much more comfortable in possession with the result of the game seemingly going their way and Sturridge showed a quick change of direction after 50 minutes to win a free-kick about 25 yards out. You could visibly see some of the players discussing who was going to take it, including Sturridge and Coutinho. Even though you couldn’t hear what they were saying, you could see Sturridge walk away from Coutinho and the ball so it was then clear that they had decided the Brazilian was going to try his luck. I do want to express my gratitude and love for Sturridge, though. He still played a major part in our game and I was happy that he’d been selected over Divock Origi as a starting 11 striker. He wouldn’t score in this game, though I certainly was happy he was there and doing all he could. Nobody can say he hadn’t given it his all on the last day of the season, this very important fixture.
Coutinho stepped up and perfectly placed a low effort into the far corner of the net – making it the 3rd time he has scored directly from a free-kick this season. Milner’s our regular and officially appointed set piece taker but Coutinho has really been giving him some competition for the position.
This was a moment of great happiness and relief alike. Even if Middlesbrough managed to get a lucky goal – perhaps from a penalty (and don’t forget they were almost awarded one in the first half) – then Liverpool would still be one goal ahead of them and still looking like the victors.
Simon Mignolet did a good job when he was required to, though. The clean sheet he kept by the end of the game was a testament to his doing what is needed of him, as he often does. He’s shown a real example of his worthiness to be Liverpool’s first choice goalkeeper. Those that say someone else (most likely Karius) should be Liverpool’s first choice goalkeeper haven’t spent an entire season watching Mignolet do his best, even when faced with competition. Karius has been decent competition for that number 1 GK position but the man we’ve really relied on to help bring us the results we needed badly at the defensive end of the pitch and that has served us best throughout the entire 2016-2017 campaign has been Mignolet.
Five minutes later, fans were still buzzing about Coutinho’s goal but we would get to see yet another scored at Anfield. Middlesbrough had been awarded a corner, but it was quickly dealt with by our defenders and a swift counter attack was about to happen. Liverpool pushed forwards, deep into our opponents territory. Adam Lallana would collect the ball in the penalty area, make a little space for himself to take a shot and what a shot it was. He powered the ball past the defenders and goalkeeper, making it Liverpool 3-0 Middlesbrough. We’d still have just over a half hour left to play but it was clear with this third goal that we had achieved the vital result we’d been looking for since the game began and the vital position we’d been looking for since the season began – 4th place was ours, even as our rivals (Arsenal and Man City) won also.
Man of The Match
Gini Wijnaldum was the man who turned what could have been a goalless draw around and started making Liverpool look like winners. The fear that our 2nd half was going to be goalless too just crept up on Liverpool fans very close to half time and it was put to rest by the Dutchman. We’d lead at the break and could go into the 2nd half with confidence because of this man. A strong mental attitude with actions fortified by positivity is important and he was giving that to us. Had we gone in at half time drawing 0-0, who knows if we’d ever get past that? We didn’t want to be drawing 0-0 at the break, it doesn’t reflect well on our efforts against this already relegated side who will be in the Championship next season. We should be beating them, they’re not supposed to be as good as the mighty Liverpool FC. We had to be making an impact on our game and have given our manager something to praise us for and then all he’d have to tell the players in the team talk is “more of the same, please. We’ll win this if we keep doing what we’ve been doing already”.
The result was important and I do believe the first goal was a critical starting point for making the win happen. Thank you, Gini. You’ve helped us gain more than a single victory, you’ve helped us claim 4th place and we’re about to head towards Champions League football now. That means a lot to the Liverpool fans and we appreciate that you’ve been a part of ensuring our path towards this achievement this season. We should be proud of 4th place.
Not happy with “just 4th”? Hey, there’s 16 teams below us who would just love to trade places with us, you know! Some of them got relegated to the Championship and won’t even be playing Premier League football next season.
I hope you can all appreciate that we’ve really achieved something that’s worth celebration. Sure, we didn’t win the league. I get that you may have wanted that to happen and it didn’t. Not that we’ve done that since 1990 but hey, if you want to place your expectations for Liverpool that high, I won’t stop you. It’s usually a good thing to be so be positive and ambitious with your hopes and dreams for the club. Until you get to the end of the season and may start to think 4th place just doesn’t satisfy those hopes and dreams you had.
However, we’ve done very well, a real sign of very positive things with more to come which you can be proud of. Walk with the pride of Liverpool FC in your heart.
Walk on with hope in your hearts, Anfield Family. You’ll Never Walk Alone.
[written by] Stuart Drewery.
I’m an Englishman (born and raised in Liverpool in the 80s). My whole family including my parents and grandparents were Liverpool fans so I was born into being a red.
I’ve seen Liverpool win the league (more than 25 years ago) and I’ve been 100% loyal and committed while supporting the Reds through all the good times AND the bad times since the 80s.