13 May 2018

Liverpool 4-0 Brighton

Salah 26'
Lovren 40'
Solanke 53'
Robertson 85'

That's how you end a league campaign.

Liverpool win 4-0. Salah breaks the record for Premier League goals in a single season. Solanke and Robertson both score their first goals for Liverpool. And Liverpool finish fourth to secure Champions League for next season, the first time Liverpool have qualified for that competition in consecutive seasons since in almost a decade.

When Liverpool needed to do Liverpool, Liverpool did Liverpool. Weird how a week's respite makes that much of a difference after the season it's been.

That this match was little more than a formality doesn't fit with the last few weeks, but does with how Liverpool's played in the majority of matches this season. This was 3-0 Huddersfield, 3-0 Bournemouth, 5-0 Swansea rather than 0-0 Stoke or 0-0 West Brom. Aside from a frustrating 1-1 draw with Newcastle many months ago, Liverpool did what Liverpool have done against promoted sides: 2-0 Newcastle, 3-0 Huddersfield, 3-0 Huddersfield, 5-1 Brighton, and now 4-0 Brighton.

It could and probably should have been a lot worse for the visitors. But Liverpool screwed up two clear-cut chances – Mané shooting when he should have passed, then Mané passing when he should have shot – and were denied three seemingly obvious penalties. And this was all in the first half-hour. There was a little bit of weirdness with Solanke leading the line ahead of Firmino, Salah, and Mané, with some congestion and narrow play, but there was still an unstoppable Liverpool rolling at Brighton's defense again and again and again.

Even with all the spurned opportunities, the result never felt in doubt. Sure, Brighton were safe and Liverpool needed some sort of result, ideally a win, but Liverpool still had to go and do it. Which they processed to from the opening whistle. I guess that's what happens when Liverpool have literally all the possession. When Brighton have two shots all match, both from Solly March, both from outside the box, both after Liverpool had already opened the scoring. When Liverpool's defense has been this much better over the last few months, especially in matches like these, despite a couple of recent late collapses. When Liverpool's attack have the legs to do what Liverpool's attack does best.

So, finally – he writes "finally" about an incident in the 26th minute – Salah gets his 32nd in the league and 44th of the season when one of the many, many Liverpool attacks finally clicks: Alexander-Arnold, to Solanke, to Mo, with seemingly no space for the assist or shot. And then Lovren heads in after a corner's initially cleared, with no one tracking his run into the box. And then Solanke finally opens his account, a length-of-the-pitch counter from Henderson to Firmino to Salah to Solanke, a run around and through two defenders from Salah then absolutely thundered off the roof of the net by Solanke. And then Robertson caps it all off, in place when the ball's deflected to him after lovely work from substitutes Ings and Lallana.

And then we're laughing. Lovren and van Dijk, untroubled again. Karius in the way the few times called upon, one save and one good punch that cleared out the ball and attacker. Henderson and Wijnaldum able to do all that running in the 55th match of the season. Robertson and Alexander-Arnold up and down the flanks. Solanke finally scores, Robertson finally scores, with the latter also chipping in an assist and Solanke responsible for Salah's goal even if he doesn't get an assist thanks to a slight touch. And another goal and another assist and another hockey assist from Salah. A true team performance when the team needed to perform.

It's now the 25th time this season that Liverpool's scored three or more goals in a match, the 14th with four or more. The 23rd clean sheet of the season, with 11 of those in the last 20 games. Liverpool finish unbeaten in the league at Anfield, the only club in England to do so. 75 points in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2009. Top four in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2009. Qualification for the Champions League in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2009.

It is exactly the way you want to finish the league campaign, after all the good and bad that's come before. With a lot more good than bad, and a lot more fun than not.

Now, to finish the season with similar jubilation in two weeks' time.

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