Sadio Mane netted a brace as Liverpool secured a third-place finish with a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace in front of 10,000 supporters at Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp’s side knew a win would almost certainly be enough to avoid missing out on the Champions League places, but they made a nervy start and almost fell behind on 14 minutes when Andros Townsend fired past the post after seizing upon an error and racing clear.
Liverpool stepped it up a gear with Mo Salah and Rhys Williams both going close before Mane slid in at the far post on 36 minutes to profit from a left-wing corner.
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Salah was seeking to pip Harry Kane to the Golden Boot but couldn’t find the goal his performance deserved. Instead, his superb run and pass 16 minutes from time set up Mane to calm any nerves and seal a fifth straight win for the Reds.
The victory, coupled with results elsewhere, ensures Liverpool of third place, while Palace, who were playing their last match under Roy Hodgson, end the campaign in 14th spot.
TALKING POINT -
No real drama at Anfield as Liverpool get the job done
Back on March 7, Liverpool suffered a hugely disappointing 1-0 home defeat to Fulham that left them in eighth spot and in danger of missing out on the Champions League places less than a year after clinching the Premier League title. It looked bleak for the Reds, but they somehow found some form via a 10-match unbeaten league run, including five victories in a row to finish off the season strongly. A third-placed finish is quite some turnaround as both Chelsea and Leicester fluffed their lines on the final day of the campaign. Liverpool had more spark with supporters in the ground and Klopp will be desperate to be able to call upon their energy next season after a tricky year blighted by loss of form to key players and a host of injuries.
Palace will step up their plans post-Hodgson after a lacklustre run-in that saw them lose six of their last eight games. A number of players, including Wilfried Zaha, have been linked with moves away and it’s going to be an important summer of big decisions for the Eagles as they aim to ensure they can continue to be a steady Premier League side.
MAN OF THE MATCH -
Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
By his own admission, the Senegal star has not had his finest season, but he looked like the tireless menace of old in this key contest for his team. He was a threat throughout and capped his display with an important double.
LIVERPOOL: Alisson 7, Alexander-Arnold 8, Phillips 8, R Williams 8, Robertson 8, Thiago 8, Fabinho 7, Wijnaldum 7, Salah 8, Firmino 7, Mane 8*. Subs: Milner 6, Oxlade-Chamberlain n/a, Jota n/a.
CRYSTAL PALACE: Guaita 7, Ward 7, Tomkins 6, Cahill 6, Mitchell 6, Kouyate 7, McCarthy 6, Riedewald 6, Townsend 6, Ayew 6, Zaha 6. Subs: Schlupp 6, Van Aanholt n/a, Kelly n/a.
14’ – CRYSTAL PALACE CHANCE! Townsend must score. He rampages on to a mix-up near the halfway line and races in on goal. He looks all set to fire beyond Alisson but contrives to fizz just beyond the far post.
20’ – LIVERPOOL CHANCES! Mane spins his man down the left and picks out Salah who sees his first-time strike deflected behind. Rhys Williams meets the resulting corner with a free header but somehow powers it over the bar.
36’ - GOAL! – Liverpool 1-0 Crystal Palace. Mane slides in the opener at the far post after Firmino's touch from Williams' flick-on caught Palace cold defending a left-wing corner.
74’ - GOAL! – Liverpool 2-0 Crystal Palace. Mane fires a deflected shot beyond Guaita after brilliant build up from Salah down the right.
Mane is only the second player to score 10+ PL goals in five consecutive seasons for Liverpool after Michael Owen, who did so seven seasons in a row from 1997-98 to 2003-04.
Mane (vs Crystal Palace) is just the second player to score in eight consecutive Premier League appearances against an opponent, after Robin van Persie against Stoke.
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