A flat end to 2019/20, despite us taking the lead after just 26 seconds, with Liverpool coming away convincing 3-1 winners in the end.
The result means we finish the season in 13th, being 10 clear of the drop zone, the same distance from the top 10 and 15 shy of the European places on a day where Villa stayed up and Bournemouth and Watford suffered relegation to the second tier.
Back to the game itself, Bruce made one change, with Valentino Lazaro earning a rare start and replacing the injured Emil Krafth. This saw Rose and Manquillo play either side of Fernandez in a five-man defence, with Ritchie and Lazaro in at wing-back, Almiron part of a three-man midfield and ASM up top along with Gayle against a much changed Liverpool side who handed rests to Salah, Mane and Alexander Arnold.
The game started with a bang and the quickest goal of the season. After Saint-Maximin was cynically tripped by Virgil Van Dijk, Shelvey’s quick free kick put Dwight Gayle in behind – and he slotted past Alisson for his 4th goal since football returned.
A length VAR checked followed to see if he Liverpool youngster Nico Williams really was playing him on or not, but the goal was eventually given. Just 26 seconds in against the Champions of Europe and we were 1-0 up!
Liverpool then responded with a 20-minute spell of possession (the stats said they had 83% at this point!), yet they never threatened Dubravka until a brilliant effort from Minamino was superbly tipped around the post from the Slovakian, proving once again why he was officially named our player of the season earlier today!
Five minutes before the break, the Champions drew level.
Oxlaide-Chamberlain went past Rose all too easily and his cross was met by Van Dijk, whose looped header gave a sprawling Dubravka no chance this time around:
Poor defending but it had been coming. Half time and we went in at 1-1.
We’d been disciplined in general and tried to commit the odd body forward on the rare occasion we got the chance to counter, but it felt like this was only going to go one way if we continued to sit so deep and invite pressure.
Saint-Maximin made way at the break – a surprise move given he was our biggest outlet on the break but one that at least protects him for next season – and on came Joelinton, ensuring the Brazilian has played a part in all 38 of our league games this season.
The game continued from where it left off, with Liverpool having all the ball and looking the more likely without battering the door down. Another NUFC change then came when Bentaleb went down for a second time and limped off, allowing Sean Longstaff to make his first appearance since pulling his hamstring in our 4-1 win at Bournemouth.
As we all feared, Liverpool would eventually find another if we sat off, gave them too much of the ball and didn’t give them something to think about at the other end, and that arrived via Divock Origi, with Robertson’s simple cut back being smashed home from range from the Belgian international:
To add to our woe, Klopp then brought on the three amigos, Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino and it didn’t take long for them to make an impact as Salah smashed the post with his second touch.
Another change then arrived, this time for our dugout, with Carroll coming on against his former club in Gayle’s place and Hayden on for Almiron. Hardly the most inspiring subs in a game we were chasing.
Some brilliant play soon followed, although it was at the wrong end of the pitch, with Federico Fernandez summing up his rock solid season with a heroic last-ditch block to deny Mo Salah his 20th of the season.
On the subject of defenders, Kelland Watts was then handed a moment to remember and Premier League debut, replacing Rose with 20 minutes to play. A baptism of fire for the 20-year-old Geordie now all of Liverpool’s big guns were on the field and looking eager to end their season on a high with a few more goals!
On the subject of Liverpool attackers looking for goals, the afternoon’s scoring was then rounded up by Sadio Mane. Another brilliant finish from the left-hand side that Dubravka could do little about after he skipped past Lazaro and let fly:
1-3 and a deserved win for the Champions, although it was disappointing the way we sat off and accepted our fate from the moment we scored onwards, with us only having one other shot on target following Gayle’s early strike.
So, that’s it for ‘2019/20’, but it won’t be long until we’re back (the new season will begin in just SEVEN weeks), making a final decision on this tedious takeover saga all the more important – especially when we’re entering tomorrow’s opening of the summer transfer window in limbo.