Jurgen Klopp says Liverpool’s bid to qualify for the Champions League is “in our hands” as they seek to end a disappointing season on a high by finishing in the Premier League’s top four.
The deposed champions are battling with Chelsea and Leicester for the two remaining slots in next season’s Champions League, with Manchester City and Manchester United already assured of qualification.
Klopp’s men are level with Leicester on 66 points but their goal difference is superior, meaning all the Reds have to do at home to Crystal Palace tomorrow is match the Foxes’ result against Tottenham. Third-placed Chelsea, one point clear of Liverpool and Leicester, travel to face mid-table Aston Villa.
In mid-March Liverpool were eight points adrift of fourth place but they have taken 23 points from the past 27 available and are unbeaten in nine games. “We just found stability, created confidence again or got it back, and scored goals in the right moments and conceded less, let me say it like this,” Klopp said.
But he warned that Liverpool’s recent good run would mean nothing against a determined Palace side led by former Anfield boss Roy Hodgson, who is stepping down at the end of the season. “Nobody should expect the perfect game, like in the sense of an early lead and all these kind of things,” warned Klopp, whose side beat Palace 7-0 in the reverse fixture in December. “You have to fight for it. I respect Crystal Palace too much, what they want to give Roy in his last game maybe as a manager.”
A total of 10,000 Liverpool fans will be inside Anfield for the match after a season played almost entirely behind closed doors because of the coronavirus. Klopp said having them back was the “best news I can imagine” but he said they must stay patient, even if things were not going Liverpool’s way on a nervy final day.
“It was an incredibly intense season, nothing will change that,” Klopp added. “But we have it now in our hands to make a top, top finish of the season.”
Chelsea seized control of their top-four destiny with a crucial 2-1 win against Leicester on Tuesday. Thomas Tuchel’s team will be guaranteed to finish third if they beat Villa, although they could also qualify for the Champions League if they beat Manchester City in the final of this season’s tournament on May 29.
Tuchel wants Chelsea to finish the job at Villa, so they can avoid going into the City showdown with the extra pressure of Champions League qualification at stake.
“For sure, for sure. We don’t need to talk around it, for sure it takes some pressure off,” Tuchel said of the benefits of beating Villa. “We’ve put so much hard work, so much quality and a very consistent amount of results into the last few months, that we want to finish the job on Sunday. Three teams have a chance to catch two places, and so the race is on.”
FA Cup winners Leicester potentially face heartbreak for a second successive season after missing out last year after a final-day defeat by Manchester United. But Brendan Rodgers will fancy his team’s chances of beating managerless Tottenham despite a recent wobble.
“I don’t think it’s over yet,” he said. “I have that optimism and belief that if we do our job we can do no more than that. It’ll be interesting to see how it finishes. What we don’t want is for the door to open for us and for us not to walk through it. If we arrive on 69 points and somehow don’t make it to the Champions League it has been really unfortunate.”
West Ham only need a point at home to Southampton tomorrow to secure sixth place and a Europa League spot. Tottenham can still pip them on goal difference should they beat Leicester and the Hammers lose.
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