Liverpool overcame a nervy start to beat relegated Middlesbrough 3-0 in the final English Premier League game of the season on Sunday at Anfield, confirming fourth spot and a return to the UEFA Champions League in the process.
With fifth-ranked Arsenal entertaining Everton at the Emirates Stadium, the Reds knew they needed to beat 19th-placed Middlesbrough. Despite having the lion’s share of possession, they took a while to find the breakthrough.
Jurgen Klopp took no chances after Liverpool’s suspect record against teams in the bottom-half of the league, with Daniel Sturridge leading the line alongside Roberto Firmino. Firmino passed a late fitness test to start at Anfield, with Georginio Wijnaldum, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana lining up behind the strike-duo.
The hosts were camped in Middlesbrough’s half, but despite being consigned to the Championship next season, the visitors put up a determined defensive display to stymie Klopp’s men.
Liverpool had a few chances, with right-back Nathaniel Clyne skewing a volley from inside the box wide and the mood started to grow tense as news filtered in that Arsenal were leading Everton at the Emirates.
And on a rare foray into the Liverpool half, Middlesbrough caused the hosts to panic as Patrick Bamford made a run into the box only for Dejan Lovren to clumsily bundle him over. Referee Martin Atkinson waved away penalty appeals and replays suggested that the decision could have gone either way.
Emboldened by their lucky escape, the Reds finally broke through Middlesbrough’s stubborn resistance when Dutchman Wijaldum rifled his shot into Brad Guzan’s net in the first minute of first-half injury-time.
Taking the lead at the stroke of half-time proved to be crucial and the Reds quickly increased their lead in the second period.
Coutinho sprinkled some magic into the tie with long-range free kick in the 51st minute, the bounce and the pace on his shot beating Guzan before Lallana made sure of the result with a calm finish inside the box five minutes later.
While Liverpool continued to create chances, they were unable to add to the scoreline, but it didn't matter to a roaring Anfield crowd, who were wildly celebrating a return to Europe’s most elite competition.
While 10-man Arsenal beat Everton 3-1, Liverpool finished the season in fourth-place with 76 points, one ahead of the Gunners and two behind third-placed Manchester City.