Sadio Mane double sees Liverpool past Crystal Palace and into Champions League

·4-min read
 (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
(Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

They could not be here to drink in the champagne moment, the crowning of their mentality monsters as champions of England. But the fans filled Anfield with intoxication as Liverpool extracted every ounce of fight to overcome adversity and cross the top-four finish line.

After their season of hell, setback after setback on loop, they battled into third following a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace.

It allowed Gini Wijnaldum to say goodbye in a way that typified his 237 appearances: servant to the team, doing whatever was needed to secure whatever they wanted.

This was Anfield: colour, noise, emotion and appreciation of the effort Jurgen Klopp’s men have put in to rescue a season that seemed completely lost with the silver lining of Champions League football.

There were 10,000 supporters on the terraces to applaud a 10-match unbeaten run on the back of a 1-0 home defeat by Fulham on March 7, which generated 26 points from a possible 30 to reach the promised land.

The route was decorated with the unforgettable, like Alisson’s header at the death against West Bromwich Albion, but it was grit that saw Liverpool home.

That was no different on Roy Hodgson’s last game as Palace manager, the former Reds boss given a warm send-off despite the lingering resentment over his ambition-less tenure here.

In horrid wind, Liverpool weathered early pressure from the visitors to take control of the encounter. Wilfried Zaha spun in behind, motioning past Nathaniel Phillips as though the defender wasn’t there before trying to curl the ball beyond Alisson.

The goalkeeper was equal to the effort and then tipped Andros Townsend’s free-kick out for a corner. After a spell of Liverpool attacks, Alisson thwarted him again after a miscommunication between Phillips and Rhys Williams, but it was staggering that the hosts hadn’t scored yet.

Trent Alexander-Arnold was a creative fulcrum, conjuring chance after chance. Mohamed Salah and Fabinho had good openings, but the best opportunity was spurned by Williams.

Liverpool’s right-back delivered a free-kick that reached the unmarked teenager, but he somehow headed it over when it seemed harder to miss.

Klopp’s charges, playing with speed and intention, did not stem the tide of attacks.

The reward arrived when Williams met a corner, flicking it on to Roberto Firmino at the back post. The Brazilian's touch was converted by Sadio Mane from close range to a chorus of relief and ecstasy so missed this season.

The Senegal forward was turbocharged by the fans, shaking off his slump to show shades of his former self with nutmegs and confidence in rinsing his markers.

He would make the result and consequence safe on 74 minutes, collecting Salah’s pass and hitting a left-footed strike that deflected in.

The sound of relief, of ecstasy, of defiance, of delirium that greeted that goal was matched with scenes of fist-pumps and hugs on the terraces and the touchline.

Klopp’s assertion that Liverpool securing a top four would be one of his “biggest achievements” as a manager was no hyperbole.

The club lost all of their senior centre-backs through serious injury, with the stand-ins also spending extended periods on the sidelines.

No Virgil van Dijk, no Joe Gomez, no Joel Matip. For large swathes of the campaign, there was no Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago and Diogo Jota too.

Even Alisson was unavailable for a lengthy period.

“If you want to write a book about a season and you want to be depressed afterwards, then you’d probably take this season,” Klopp had said. “You’d read it and think: ‘Wow really, that happened? Then that happened?’

“It’s just really we had a lot of things to deal with but here we are. This season has been really hard work for us, without always getting a reward.”

At the end of their storm, however, Liverpool could revel in a Champions League-tinted sky.

Ultimately, the elements that marked them out as England’s best last time out - resilience, steel, a dedication to the dirty work - bubbled to the fore to guide them home.

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