Liverpool 4 Brighton 0
It somehow sums up the glorious unpredictability of this Liverpool team that before they could think about winning the Champions League, they had to spend Sunday afternoon qualifying for it.
Yet one aspect at Anfield yesterday was anything but unpredictable, and that was the brilliance of Mo Salah, who ended the Premier League season with a new goalscoring record — and the Premier League Golden Boot — after yet another afternoon full of the kind of poise and productivity that should terrify Real Madrid in 12 days’ times.
Avoiding defeat against Brighton — thanks to a superior goal difference over Chelsea — was still the order of the day yesterday if Jurgen Klopp’s men were to qualify for the Champions League next season outright, no matter what happens in Kiev.
Liverpool still had a job to do and Salah, as always, helped them do it, scoring his 32nd Premier League goal of the season to round off a domestic term of almost unimaginable personal consistency.
“This was the perfect final of the season, of a very exciting season and a very intense season,” Klopp said, before again praising Salah and his showing, especially after he has been littered with awards recently, including the Premier League Player of the Year accolade.
“He was fantastic,” Klopp added.
“I think especially the last few weeks were really difficult. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be if everybody tells you every day how brilliant you are but not only that, they give you an Oscar, an award for this and award for that, for getting out of the car without an accident!”
There was a sense of nervousness around Anfield in the opening stages, as was only fitting with Champions League qualification not quite secured, and that was not helped by referee Kevin Friend and his refusal to bend to the Kop’s will.
He turned down three early penalty calls after handballs from Shane Duffy and Anthony Knockaert and then a later clumsy Duffy challenge on Salah raised the Kop’s hackles even further.
Yet, as always, as ever, Salah was the man to step up to the plate and he opened the scoring after 26 minutes.
The goal — a ruthless quick-footed finish after the ball fell nicely 12 yards out — give him a new record for a 38-match Premier League season. That figure puts him a goal above Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, and Alan Shearer.
Brighton manager Chris Hughton has done a fine job in ensuring the club’s last-day activities did not involve any nerve-jangling relegation concerns and while it would be unfair to say they had the deckchairs out in the Anfield sunshine, they certainly were not as high-tempo and as disciplined as they have been in earlier parts of this season.
If any holes were to be picked in Liverpool’s performance, especially in the first half, it was the number of chances missed, with both Georginio Wijnaldum and Firmino missed sitters as half-time approached.
However, defender Dejan Lovren showed his more attacking-minded players how to do it just before the interval as he powered home a fine header to allow Liverpool a higher degree of half-time comfort.
After the interval, and with news filtering around Anfield that Chelsea were losing, the game slowed down but was still illuminated by Dominic Solanke’s maiden Liverpool goal after 53 minutes, a near-post rifle that left Ryan no chance.
Late on, Andy Robertson drilled through a crowd of players to also open his Liverpool scoring account. Now it is time for Liverpool to prepare for another adventure.
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Karius 6; Alexander-Arnold 7, Lovren 8, van Dijk 7, Robertson 8; Henderson 7, Wijnaldum 7; Salah 8 (Woodburn 84,5), Firmino 7 (Ings 84,5), Mane 7 (Lallana 74,6); Solanke 7.
Not used: Mignolet, Clyne, Klavan, Moreno.
BRIGHTON (4-3-3): Ryan 7; Schelotto 6, Duffy 6 (Goldson 71,6), Dunk 6, Bong 5; Kayal 5 (Gross 57,6), Stephens 5, Propper 5; Knockaert 5, Locadia 6 (Murray 57,6), March 5
Not used: Krul, Bruno, Suttner, Ulloa
Referee: Kevin Friend 6
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