Liverpool’s Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum celebrates scoring his team’s first goal during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Middlesbrough at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS /
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was as delighted as the club’s success-starved fans after his side’s 3-0 win over Middlesbrough secured a top-four finish and a Champions League play-off spot on Sunday.
Brilliant strikes from Georginio Wijnaldum, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana guaranteed a place in next season’s qualification play-off as Klopp’s men overcame some early nerves to show their class on the last day of the season.
Liverpool’s fourth-placed finish is just the second time in eight seasons that they have made it into Europe’s elite competition and the ecstatic reception Klopp’s side received on the final whistle confirmed how much that means to the club’s ever-faithful fans.
Klopp — who turns 50 next month — was beaming with satisfaction afterwards and believes Liverpool are in an ideal position to kick on from here.
“Everything is good at this club at the moment,” said Klopp.
“It feels good. We deserve this position. 76 points is an outstanding number.
“We learned a lot this year about ourselves and we can use that.
“At the end of the season you are usually tired but I could start again tomorrow.
“We are all looking forward to what we can do. We can qualify in August so we are really looking forward to it. I’m very proud of the boys.
“After the second goal, everybody could see how good we can be.
“It is never easy but it looked really good. That was what everybody wished for before the game and now we should celebrate.”
Liverpool went into this contest knowing that they have struggled at home recently, picking up just two points from their previous three Merseyside encounters.
Anfield, then, was understandably nervy about whether or not they could get the job done – but at least they were playing a visiting team that have been woeful this season.
On the stroke of half-time Wijnaldum made all the difference, rifling past helpless Brad Guzan into the roof of the net before Coutinho scored a wonderful free-kick five minutes after the restart.
Soon after, Lallana then twisted the knife even further, skipping through Boro’s static defence to slot past Guzan and the last 30 minutes became a procession as Middlesbrough gave up and the home side basked in the Kop’s adulation.
– ‘It’s all good’ –
“The Champions League is the best tournament in Europe,” said Klopp, who guided Borussia Dortmund to the 2013 final where they lost to domestic rivals Bayern Munich.
“There is nothing better, maybe in the world. For me, it’s the best competition and Liverpool needs to be there consistently, all the time, and I love the perspective.
“I don’t want to say we are already in -– qualification is qualification -– but we are really strong, we want to fight for it and be there.
“It’s all good. You have to make steps and the steps for us are to be around the best teams in the world because we are one of the best clubs in the world.”
Middlesbrough were second best all afternoon and have had a season to forget as they head for the Championship.
Caretaker manager Steve Agnew acknowledged the team had not been good enough over the whole campaign.
“It has been a disappointing season for all of us but their attitude has been very very good,” said Agnew, who is not expected to be given the job full-time.
“Our spirit is dented but is determined to come back and get the club back.”