The top four teams are guaranteed places in the group stage. Manchester City and Manchester United have qualified and two of Chelsea, Liverpool and Leicester will join them. In a topsy-turvy season, the hopes of Liverpool qualifying for the next season’s Champions League are still not over as they live another day after beating Burnley.
Liverpool go above Leicester into fourth on goal difference 📈
One game to go 👀 pic.twitter.com/X9Q3xGVXb2
— Goal (@goal) May 19, 2021
The contest was closer than the scoreline might suggest, and it was the sharp edge at the final third that made the difference and Liverpool were clinical when it was about scripting the finishing touches.
Burnley without a home win since January and with a goalkeeper, Will Norris, making his Premier League debut for the club was looking good and gave the visitors a tough fight.
Chris Wood unsettled an uncertain Liverpool defence from the start but the visitors – Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams’s – chief among them, recovered to produce a mature and incisive display. Liverpool created enough clear-cut chances to have established a commanding lead by the break.
This group ♥️ pic.twitter.com/MkvOvbKCIA
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 20, 2021
Burnley defence was split-opened from Liverpool’s first attack when a fine ball from the influential Andy Robertson released Mohamed Salah. An excellent tackle by Ben Mee prevented the threat.
James Tarkowski, produced a similar challenge to deny Sadio Mane when Salah found the striker unmarked inside the area.
Mane missed a great chance Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross deflected into his path in front of the goal – the shot was wide.
Roberto Firmino bangs in what could be a HUGE goal for Liverpool in the top-four race 💥
— Yahoo Soccer (@FCYahoo) May 19, 2021
Firmino turned a good chance wide from Mane’s back heel, Thiago Alcantara dragged a shot wide of the far post and seconds later, after Robertson launched a long ball over the Burnley defence, Salah wasted another chance.
The desperation of Liverpool for the goals was evident and Robertson combined with Mane down the left – he produced cross back from the by-line for Firmino to side-foot home from 12 yards.
Mane beat Lowton to the byline and lofted an inch-perfect cross into the area and Phillips rose to plant an unstoppable header beyond the exposed Norris.
A special moment at a 𝒄𝒓𝒖𝒄𝒊𝒂𝒍 time 🤩
Powering home a header to score his first for the Reds! Boss that, Nat. pic.twitter.com/h4tRTb0ovJ
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 19, 2021
Burnley continued to battle but in the final minute Oxlade-Chamberlain, receiving Robertson’s pass into the area, bamboozled Charlie Taylor with fine footwork before driving inside Norris’ near post.
The Reds bagged full points and Jurgen Klopp was smiling.
𝐈𝐍𝐒𝐓𝐀𝐍𝐓 𝐈𝐌𝐏𝐀𝐂𝐓 😁 pic.twitter.com/euEl33qBRP
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) May 19, 2021
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” the Liverpool manager said. “It is not that we took these things for granted. This season has been incredibly tough and February was the last time we were in the top four and we didn’t win a lot of games since then. In the last eight, 10 games, I don’t know how many, we are back on track. If we win on Sunday then we are probably qualified for the Champions League. It’s insane that we came this close but we are not through yet. When you win the semi-final you go to a final and that’s where we are. We will give our absolute everything.”
— Thiago Alcantara (@Thiago6) May 19, 2021
Regarding Phillips Klopp said, “I love the boy, he knows that, but let’s see if we make it or not and talk about him after Crystal Palace. When the season is finished I could write a book about Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams, but we are not there yet. Let them stay focused and recover and then we can talk about them. I promise you I will talk about them for an hour after that.”
The race for the top four spots has gotten fascinating.
A win at Aston Villa would guarantee Chelsea third place. Liverpool, at home to Crystal Palace, are fourth and level on points with Leicester but with a goal difference superior by four. So to secure fourth, Leicester must take more points than Liverpool or win at home to Tottenham by a margin four goals greater than Liverpool achieve against Palace. They and Liverpool have each scored 66 times.
And if Chelsea finish fifth and win the Champions League then they would also get a place in the Champions League group stage and the Premier League would have five representatives in the tournament.
Liverpool stay alive.