Liverpool secured a place in next season’s Champions League by sweeping Crystal Palace 2-0 as 10,000 fans returned to Anfield on Sunday.
Sadio Mane struck from either side of half-time as the Reds registered an eighth win in their last 10 games of the season to finish third in the Premier League.
Jurgen Klopp’s men had to celebrate the club’s first league triumph for 30 years in an empty stadium last season and their Premier League title defense was shaken by a string of long-term injuries to key players.
But they avoided the financial blow of missing Europe’s first club competition in addition to the economic consequences of the pandemic by finding their form in the last months of the season.
When Liverpool beat Palace 7-0 in December, Klopp’s men cleared a five-point lead at the top of the table.
Just three wins in their next 14 league games, including six straight losses at home for the first time in club history, left them languishing in eighth.
However, Liverpool have taken 26 out of a possible 30 points in their last 10 games to ensure they will be in the Champions League for a fifth consecutive season.
Klopp had urged his players to enjoy the thrill of fans returning to Anfield for the first time in 2021.
Before kick-off there was an emotional rendition of ‘You’ll never walk alone’, but the home team started nervously.
Center back injuries have been at the root of Liverpool’s problems this season.
Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have all been sidelined for most of the campaign, forcing Klopp to rely on the inexperienced pair of Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams.
Andros Townsend pounced on the reluctance of Liverpool’s two center-backs to intercept Trent Alexander-Arnold’s pass, but he shot wide with just Alisson Becker to beat.
Palace had recently pooped at Anfield, winning Steven Gerrard’s last home game 3-1 in 2015.
However, they couldn’t give starting manager Roy Hodgson a winning start as Liverpool took control after the first 20 minutes.
Williams somehow headed when he wasn’t scored from a corner before Mohamed Salah managed to beat Vicente Guaita.
Salah’s goals kept his team afloat as Mane by his own admission had the most difficult season of his career.
But the Senegalese came back on the scoresheet when it mattered, as he conceded a corner from the back post in the 36th minute to score for the eighth game in a row against the Eagles.
The home side were completely dominant after the break and had time to breathe 16 minutes before Mane’s shot deflected past Vicente Guaita.
Klopp could then afford the luxury of removing Georginio Wijnaldum for a standing ovation from what is expected to be the Dutchman’s last appearance at Liverpool.
Wijnaldum is out of contract and has been heavily linked with a move to Barcelona.
Guaita denied Salah a share of the Golden Shoe with Harry Kane as he belatedly returned the Egyptian’s effort.
But Liverpool got the prize they wanted most to compete against Europe’s best again next season.
© 2021 AFP