LONDON: Physical and mental fatigue from their efforts in reaching the Champions League Final caught up with Liverpool in a 1-0 defeat at Chelsea which means they are not certain of returning to Europe’s elite event next season.
Now they need at least to win at home to Brighton next Sunday to be mathematically certain – if Chelsea beat Huddersfield on Wednesday.
The extent of Liverpool’s achievement in not only securing a place in the top four but in reaching the Champions League final was underlined ahead of the game when manager Jurgen Klopp reviewed the rebuilding which had been necessary in mid-season.
He recalled: “We had a problem when Coutinho left [for Barcelona] and Adam Lallana and then Emre Can became injured. You can never remove all injury risk and the boys still did brilliantly.”
Win or lose in Kiev later this month, Klopp wants the club to spend more money on new players not only to improve his team still further but add to the depth of a squad whose substitutes’ bench looks thin.
At least Klopp knows he will still be in charge next season. This was not the case for his rival cross the technical areas. Antonio Conte has been expected to leave Chelsea at the end of his second season whatever the outcome of the FA Cup Final against Manchester United.
The opening exchanges suggested that Chelsea were thinking more about their Wembley date than trying to overtake Tottenham and snatch fourth place and a return to the Champions League next season.
Liverpool commanded the early possession but without creating serious danger and were surprised when Chelsea burst into life for almost the first time in the 32nd minute. January signing Olivier Giroud, desperate to claim a place in France’s World Cup squad, headed home a cross from Victor Moses. It was Giroud’s fifth goal in six starts against Liverpool.
Klopp’s men raised the pace game in pursuit of an equaliser but Mohamed Salah – winner of player of the year awards from both fellow professionals and media – was shown a yellow card for diving after a challenge from Gary Cahill.
That appeared to be a hint that Liverpool’s midweek efforts against Roma in the Champions League had trimmed the edge off their appetite and strengths. They also lacked the driving influence of injured captain Jordan Henderson.
Antonio Rudiger had a second-half ‘goal’ ruled out for a clear offside, prompting Liverpool to bring on Henderson in vain pursuit of an equaliser.
** Arsenal fans gave departing manager Arsene Wenger a rousing reception as he walked out for his last home game through a guard of honour formed by his team, Burnley’s players, the officials and opposition boss Sean Dyche. A post-match presentation from the club followed the 5-0 win.
** Arsenal fans gave departing manager Arsene Wenger a rousing reception as he walked out for his last home game through a guard of honour formed by his team, Burnley’s players, the officials and opposition boss Sean Dyche.
A post-match presentation from the club followed the 5:0 win. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both scored twice in a game from which Mesut Ozil was absent yet again, this time with a back injury. Both clubs will be in the Europa League next season.
Wenger began an address to fans with best wishes to Sir Alex Ferguson. He said: “Thankyou for having me for such a long time. I know it’s not easy but above all I am like you I am an Arsenal fan. It’s a way of life. It is caring about the beautiful game, the values that we cherish. I would urge you to really support these players and the staff who remain behind me next season because they really deserve it.
“I will miss you. Thankyou for being such an important part of my life.”
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both scored twice in a game from which Mesut Ozil was absent yet again, this time with a back injury. Both clubs will be in the Europa League next season.
** Huddersfield took a hard-earned step towards survival when they became the first team this season to avoid conceding a goal at Manchester City in a goalless draw with the new champions who were presented with the Premier trophy after the final whistle. David Wagner’s men need two points from their two remaining games to be certain of staying up.
Wagner said: “Everyone sticks together and believes and this is what makes us something special.”
** Wolves and Cardiff City return to the Premier League next season with Fulham, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Derby contesting the play-offs for the third promotion place.