A place in next season’s Champions League is, remarkably, within touching distance. Crystal Palace and former manager Roy Hodgson stand in their way. Roberto Firmino, Nat Phillips and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got the goals at Turf Moor as Liverpool recorded a seventh win from their past nine games. They’ve found form when it matters most and are back in the top four for the first time since February. Just in time.
“It was a semifinal,” said Klopp. “We had to win the semifinal and we did. Nothing is decided yet, but we improved our position and we have the final. That’s what we needed. It’s what we deserve because this was a top performance.
“You can’t give any chance away against Burnley because of the way they play. They wanted to go for our centre-halves, but our boys did outstandingly well. We knew before the game it would be incredibly tough — they had about 3,500 people not on our side. Atmosphere in football is massive.
“I thought the boys dealt really well with that. They didn’t get distracted — they tried to use it because noise is nice. We played a lot of good football stuff.”
Burnley manager Sean Dyche hit it on the head when he said Liverpool were “back purring.”
Klopp, who has turned Liverpool into domestic and European champions over the past two seasons, says qualifying for the Champions League would rank alongside his greatest achievements, and after the season he’s had, you can understand why. Injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Jordan Henderson have hacked the core out of his team for much of the campaign, but the supporting cast — including the young centre-back pairing of Phillips and Rhys Williams — have ensured there is still an opportunity to emerge from this season with some kind of credit.
It’s not often you congratulate yourselves on finishing fourth when the ambition is to win trophies, but if Liverpool can finish in the top four, there will be a huge sigh of relief in the boardroom. The financial hole left behind would have been a body blow, particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic. Should everything go smoothly on Sunday vs. Palace, this can be written off as one bad season rather than having to deal with the consequences next year and beyond.
Liverpool have found plenty of heroes during their climb up the table, and they can add another one to the list. Trent Alexander-Arnold got a 90th-minute winner against Aston Villa in April, and on Sunday against West Bromwich Albion, it was a barely believable header from goalkeeper Alisson that snatched three points. Nothing quite that spectacular was needed at Turf Moor, but Klopp can be delighted with the contribution of Phillips.
The suddenly in-form Firmino had already calmed some nerves on the Liverpool bench just before half-time when he added to his double at Old Trafford with a sharp finish from Andy Robertson‘s cut-back. The crucial goal, though, was from Philips early in the second half, heading in Sadio Mane‘s cross.
Not content with that, the 24-year-old, who made his league debut only in October, cleared Ben Mee‘s header off the line moments later to ensure there was no Burnley fight back. Asked afterward which one was more pleasing, Phillips gave the answer you would expect from a defender.
“The one that I cleared off the line,” he said.
“That’s my job, to stop the ball going in the net. If I can score goals, happy days, that’s a bonus. But it’s my job to keep a clean sheet. It was a really tough, physical game. It was one of the toughest I’ve had all season.”
He knew exactly what kind of evening to expect when Matthew Lowton thumped a long ball up to Chris Wood with barely five seconds on the clock. Substitute Oxlade-Chamberlain wrapped things up late on with a deserved third goal, which, given the Reds are only above Leicester on goal difference, could prove a vital contribution even if this game was already won.
“You can’t go to Burnley and hope to win 3-0; it’s usually incredibly tight,” Klopp said.
“We have to make sure we recover quickly. We have a thin squad in some positions. We have to wrap them in cotton wool. I can’t wait for the 10,000 fans at Anfield. Nothing is decided. Palace are strong.”
Nothing is decided, but now it’s firmly Liverpool’s to lose.
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