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Liverpool overcome nerves to seal Champions League place with Middlesbrough win

Liverpool overcome nerves to seal Champions League place

21/05/2017 at 13:22Updated 21/05/2017 at 18:01

Premier League, Anfield - Liverpool 3 (Wijnaldum 45', Coutinho 51', Lallana 58')

Liverpool clinched a place in next season's Champions League after overcoming some early nerves to thump Middlesbrough 3-0 at Anfield.

The Reds knew a victory would guarantee them a top-four finish and they eventually achieved their target to return to Europe's elite for only the second time in the last eight campaigns.

Jurgen Klopp's men laboured for much of the first half - and survived a big penalty appeal from Patrick Bamford - before Georginio Wijnaldum's sixth of the season just prior to the interval relieved some of the tension that was building inside the stadium.

The Merseysiders stepped it up in the second period and ran out comfortable winners to finish fourth, thanks to a Philippe Coutinho free kick and Adam Lallana's first of 2017.

It meant there was no last-day drama as Liverpool responded to news that third-placed Manchester City and Arsenal were both winning with a controlled display overall, leaving the Gunners to miss out on the Champions League for the first time in over two decades.

The Reds will now play in the play-off round in August, while Klopp's immediate attention will turn towards transfer plans buoyed by the fact they can offer the lure of playing in Europe's premier competition.

Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho (L) celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Middlesbrough at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on May 21, 2017

Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho (L) celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Middlesbrough at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on May 21, 2017Getty Images

TALKING POINT

Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool both being back in the Champions League is a win for football - but Arsenal will rue that penalty call. One of the game's charismatic super coaches will once again dine at Europe's top table. Klopp's rise as one the most lauded managers in the game owed much to the endeavours of his Borussia Dortmund side's brand of heavy metal football. He's back on the stage he should be now, while five-time winners Liverpool return to a competition where they have enjoyed some of their greatest triumphs.

It's good news for the neutral, but Arsenal will look back on one major moment at Anfield as the turning point of the final day. Dejan Lovren clearly bundled over Boro striker, Bamford with the game at 0-0. It could well have been a penalty and a red card which would have changed the complexion of the game and given the Gunners real hope. Liverpool took advantage of the let off and got the job done in the end.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool): Struck a superb second-half free kick to make it 2-0 and all-but clinch the match. It was his 14th of the season and sees him end the campaign as the club's top scorer. The Brazilian has been crucial to Liverpool's push in recent weeks, and produced another piece of magic to ensure he'll be where he should be come 17-18 - on Europe's big stage.

Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool celebrates scoring his sides second goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Middlesbrough at Anfield on May 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England

Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool celebrates scoring his sides second goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Middlesbrough at Anfield on May 21, 2017 in Liverpool, EnglandGetty Images

PLAYER RATINGS

LIVERPOOL: Mignolet 7, Clyne 7, Matip 7, Lovren 6, Milner 8, Can 7, Wijnaldum 8, Lallana 7, Coutinho 8, Firmino 8, Sturridge 7. Subs: Lucas n/a, Origi n/a, Moreno n/a.

MIDDLESBROUGH: Guzan 6, Fabio 6, Chambers 7, Gibson 7, Friend 7, Clayton 6, Leadbitter 6, Forshaw 6, Downing 6, Bamford 7, Gestede 6. Subs: Ayala 6, Negredo 6.

KEY MOMENTS

23' - BORO PENALTY SHOUT! Bamford plays a one-two and looks to burst free into the area. He goes down following a tussle with Lovren. It could easily be a spot kick and a red card - but the referee waves away the appeal. Big, big moment at Anfield and in the battle for a top-four finish.

33' - LIVERPOOL CHANCE. Lovely build up play between Coutinho and Lallana ends with a touch into the area for Sturridge, who creates some space but fires just wide of the far post.

45+1' - GOAL! LIVERPOOL 1-0 MIDDLESBROUGH. Wijnaldum takes Firmino's delightful pass round the corner and breaks into the right of the area before rasping a rising shot in at the near post. Relief for Liverpool.

51' - GOAL! LIVERPOOL 2-0 MIDDLESBROUGH. Coutinho steps up and curls a lovely 25-yard free kick through the wall and into the bottom corner.

56' - GOAL! LIVERPOOL 3-0 MIDDLESBROUGH. It's three and all over! Liverpool break from a Boro corner at real pace. Lallana's misplaced pass ends up being worked back into his path and he makes no mistake with a low finish into the corner from 12 yards.

57' - MIDDLESBROUGH CHANCE. Forshaw almost snares one back for the visitors but sees his low shot diverted just wide by Mignolet.

KEY STATS

  • All 17 of Georginio Wijnaldum's Premier League goals have arrived in home games (6 at Anfield & 11 at St James' Park).
  • Coutinho has scored 15 goals from outside the area since his Premier League debut; more than any other player.
  • Liverpool have won each of their last five Premier League contests against Middlesbrough at Anfield, scoring 2+ goals on each occasion.
  • Liverpool recorded their 50th win under Jurgen Klopp in all competitions in his 99th game in charge.

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