21 May 2017

Liverpool 3-0 Middlesbrough

Wijnaldum 45+1'
Coutinho 51'
Lallana 56'

Liverpool did it.

When Liverpool needed to win two games to seal fourth place, Liverpool won 4-0 and 3-0, scoring as many goals in those two as they had in the previous six. Liverpool finished the season with four consecutive clean sheets. Liverpool finished the season with 76 points, Liverpool finished in fourth.

Liverpool didn't make it easy. Because Liverpool.

For 45 minutes, we were at wit's end. Manchester City were two goals up. Arsenal were two goals up. Liverpool were running into a brick wall, as it's felt we've seen again and again and again. Liverpool had 74% possession. Liverpool had taken 13 shots, but eight from outside the area, and none truly threatening. And Liverpool were lucky not to be behind after one of those all-too-frequent defensive breakdowns (*waves at Dejan Lovren*) with Bamford played in behind and Bamford tumbling in the penalty box but Martin Atkinson waving away appeals.

But then, as at West Ham, a moment of magic, a wondrous blitz, almost incongruous with what we'd seen previously. Matip out-muscles Gestede, Liverpool regroup. As has happened multiple times before. But this time, Wijnaldum to Clyne to Firmino to Wijnaldum, quickly worked down the inside-right, the goal coming from Firmino's deft lay-off, Wijnaldum's surging run and immaculate touch, and an utterly fierce near-post finish.

With just 30 seconds left before what would have been an infuriating interval.

Incidentally, that was Liverpool's third first-half stoppage time goal in the last six matches. Firmino at West Brom, Can at Watford, and Wijnaldum against Middlesbrough. All three absolutely necessary in breaking down a resilient defense. All three eventual match-winners.

And then, as at West Ham, Liverpool opened the floodgates and sealed the game in the 15 minutes after halftime. There was no panic, not as at 0-0. There was certainly. There was impetus. And there were goals.

First, Coutinho's direct free kick. As went Arsenal on opening day, so goes Middlesbrough on the final day. It was his third of the season, tying marks set by Suarez in 2013-14 and Gerrard in 2014-15. He'd scored just one in his Liverpool career prior to this season.

Then, counter-attacking excellence. Middlesbrough's corner ends with the ball in Middlesbrough's net. The corner swarmed and cleared by any means necessary, then Lallana tearing down the pitch with possession, Liverpool's five versus Middlesbrough's three. A slightly under-hit early cross, but *cliché alert* wanting it more on the second ball: Lallana wins the header, played directly to Wijnaldum, receives a header back, and tears through on goal, a smartly-taken left-footed finish into the far corner.

Goodnight, moon. Goodnight, Middlesbrough.

From there, a couple of chances to extend the lead: Guzan denying Coutinho, Firmino unable to set up Wijnaldum, and Wijnaldum volleying wide. A couple of chances for Adam Forshaw, Liverpool's back-line twice beaten worryingly easily, but chances untaken. Cameo appearances for Lucas and Moreno, a warm and hopefully not final send-off for Daniel Sturridge. But mostly comfort. Mostly relief. And mostly celebration.

Liverpool finish the season with 15 more goals scored than last season. With eight fewer conceded. With 16 more points. And four places better in the league table.

It is just the second time that Liverpool have finished in the Top 5 since 2008-09, let alone the Top 4. It is just the second time that Liverpool have taken more than 64 points since 2008-09, bettering that total by 12.

Liverpool's points total in those eight campaigns since? 63, 58, 52, 61, 84, 62, 60, 76.

Liverpool league finish in those eight campaigns since? 7th, 6th, 8th, 7th, 2nd, 6th, 8th, 4th.

Yes, yes, it's now up to Liverpool to prove this is the rule rather than the exception, as 2013-14 turned out to be. Yes, yes, Liverpool will still have to advance through a play-off to make the Champions League proper.

But we can worry about that in a couple of months. Right now, we're celebrating. Despite all the drama, all the torture, and all the weirdness over the last nine months.

And rightfully so.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for another great season of writing.

Vicky Agastya said...

What a season!!
Goals galore and a mid-season slump and a mini-revival to cap it off.
Champions League achieved. Goal met.

In the beginning of the season with all the new players, everyone was saying Klopp has targeted more goals from midfield. Now I know what they meant. 46 GOALS from Coutinho, Mane, Lallana, Can, Wijnaldum, Hendo. And that's not including Firmino's contribution. Wow.

Another highlight is Mignolet's surprising improvement in punching crosses and commanding his area. That's was pleasant surprise.

Best of all is Milner playing left back the WHOLE SEASON and probably being among the top 5 LBs in the league. What an amazing player! True professional.

And Lucas trolling Everton on Instagram :) :)

As Klopp would say, this season has been definite progress. And it feels more like solid progress than a one off.
I have high hopes for next season.

The players and manager deserved their lap of honour.

Thanks to you too for writing these great posts and that witty twitter account.

Julian said...

Nate, I always look forward to your pre- and post-game articles. I don't get to watch as many games as I'd like, and your writing helps me feel like I'm in touch with what's going on in the ones I miss. Thanks for all the work you put into this blog!

This is going to be a very interesting summer for LFC. As much as we need a few key signings, I think the biggest factor in maintaining/improving on this year's finish will be if our stars can maintain their performance level. It's easy to get sucked into the idea that everyone always improves ("with steps forward for Origi and Can, we'll dominate!"), but the fact is that's rarely the case. If we get better injury luck and Coutinho, Firmino, Lallana, and Mane can basically be as good as they were this year, I think we'll do well. If not...