Sadio Mane struck twice as Liverpool secured Champions League qualification with a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace at Anfield on Sunday ensuring a third-placed finish for Juergen Klopp’s side.
A fifth straight win completed an impressive end to what had been a disappointing and injury-plagued Premier League campaign for last season’s champions as they finished with 69 points, two clear of fourth-placed Chelsea and three ahead of Leicester City.
“If you had told me five weeks ago that we would finish third, I would think it is not possible,” said Klopp.
“Credit to the boys I can’t believe how it worked out in the last few weeks. From the outside, you cannot understand it. In the hardest moments, you can learn the most. We really stuck together all the time, no arguments,” added the German.
With 10 000 home fans present, Liverpool made a nervy start and Palace’s Andros Townsend missed a great chance when he intercepted a poor pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold but with only Alisson Becker to beat, he fired wide of the post.
Liverpool grew into the game though and Rhys Williams should have opened the scoring but, unmarked at a corner, his header flew high over the bar.
Mohamed Salah had an opening but shot straight at keeper Vicente Guaita before Mane broke the deadlock in the 36th minute, firing home from close range after Palace were unable to clear an Andy Robertson corner.
Mane made sure of the win and a top-four spot when he drilled in a left-footed shot in the 74th minute after being set up by Salah.
A run of six defeats in seven games in February and March had threatened to leave Liverpool without a place in Europe’s elite competition.
Yet Klopp’s side ended the season unbeaten in their final 10 matches, winning eight of them. They finished 17 points behind champions Manchester City.
The game was the final match in charge of Palace for their manager Roy Hodgson, the former England boss who had a brief spell with Liverpool. He is leaving the role at the age of 73.
There were also farewells on the Liverpool side with midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum given a strong send-off from the crowd and his teammates.
The Dutchman’s contract at the club runs out in July and no new deal has been signed.
“A wonderful player. From the first moment it clicked. Very smart, open person. Emotional for me, I lose a friend and we’ll miss him but it’s normal in football. Not always nice but normal. He will find a great place, whichever club is interested,” said Klopp.
Retiring kitman Graham Carter was also given a guard of honour after the final whistle and was paraded around the field by Klopp.