KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: In the end, for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool, it was easier than they might have feared. The last Premier League matchday has produced a string of upsets and nasty surprises down the years but there were none for the Reds and their Anfield faithful.
They began the last afternoon needing one single from a draw at home to Brighton to ensure their place in the Champions League next season, even should they lose this season’s final against Real Madrid in Kiev.
Liverpool’s goal difference was so far superior to fifth-placed Chelsea that even finishing level on point with the Blues would have been sufficient. In fact, while Liverpool were strolling against Brighton to only their first win in four league games so Chelsea were collapsing 3:0 away to a Newcastle side with nothing to play for.
Chelsea’s players may have been distracted by thoughts of next Saturday’s FA Cup Final against Manchester United and the paramount need to avoid injury of suspension ahead of the big occasion. But even that would have been a poor excuse for the lack of commitment they showed on what is now certain to have ended Antonio Conte’s Stamford Bridge contract a year earlier than scheduled.
Conte admitted: “We deserved to lose. Newcastle were more determined than us. We didn’t lose our Champions League place today, we had chances in the last two games, but to finish the season this way is not good. The first person to answer for this must be the coach. I wasn’t able to convey that determination to my players.”
Liverpool owed victory to goals at Anfield from Mohmed Salah and Dejan Lovren in the first half then Dominic Solanke and Andrew Robertson in the second while Chelsea succumbed at St James’ Park to strikes from Dwight Gayle and Ayoze Perez (two).
Salah’s goal was his 32nd of his first league campaign in a Liverpool shirt and his 44th in all competitions. He has already carried off the two player of the year awards from the media and from his fellow professional and his latest goal ensured he ended term as the Premier leading scorer, two ahead of Tottenham’s Harry Kane (30) and Manchester City’s far-distant Sergio Aguero (21).
Klopp said: “I’m proud of the boys, a nearly perfect season. It’s fantastic that Mo Salah could break the [Premier League goalscoring record]. He has been brilliant and he can still improve so much. We need more consistency to challenge Man City and a little bit more luck with injuries.
“In our good moments it is not easy to play better football. We will add to the squad, we need more players but I’m a big believer in developing the team.”
Kane struck twice in Tottenham’s extravagant farewell to their temporary home at Wembley in a 5:4 victory over Leicester City but injury denied Aguero a role in new champions Manchester City’s 1:0 win at Southampton.
The final whistle saw City celebrate their title success and Southampton celebrate survival at the expense of Swansea whose 2:1 home defeat by Stoke saw them relegated along with Paul Lambert’s men and long-lost West Bromwich.
David Wagner and Huddersfield also survived, despite a 1:0 home defeat to Arsenal nd celebrated with the fans as if they had won the league title.
Wagner: “These players, the backroom staff and all the families deserve it for what they have done this season. It is the best lap of honour I’ve ever had. It was a massive step to get promoted last season and to keep our status is even bigger, an incredible achievement.”
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 10th goal for the Gunners provided them with a first league away win of the year and a winning farewell, after almost 22 years, for manager Arsene Wenger.