Liver­pool make light work of Brighton to se­cure top four spot

Salah sparks com­pre­hen­sive win with record 38th league goal

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Soccer - Andy Hunter at An­field

Liver­pool may have left it typ­i­cally late to seal Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fi­ca­tion but their farewell to the Premier League sea­son and warm-up for Real Madrid was oth­er­wise fault­less.

Mo­hamed Salah be­gan a com­pre­hen­sive win over Brighton with a record 32nd league goal of the cam­paign and Kop favourite Andy Robert­son capped it with his first for the club. An­field could only ad­mire the ex­hi­bi­tion in be­tween.

Jür­gen Klopp had called for one last push to clinch a place among the Euro­pean elite for the sec­ond suc­ces­sive sea­son. His team de­liv­ered when it mat­tered, as they have through­out a cam­paign that has re­stored Liver­pool’s sta­tus as a Cham­pi­ons League side to be feared, although in truth this was a sunny Sun­day-af­ter­noon stroll against a team that, with safety as­sured, have had their own cam­paign to cher­ish.

Liver­pool’s thoughts now turn to Kiev.

Brighton tried to de­liver a con­test but their neat pass­ing game was con­fined to their own penalty area. They had nowhere else to go. Liver­pool laid siege to Matthew Ryan’s goal from the start with Klopp plac­ing Do­minic Solanke on top of his im­pe­ri­ous front three and see­ing his team take com­plete con­trol.

Poor fin­ish­ing, overe­lab­o­ra­tion and Kevin Friend’s aver­sion to giv­ing penal­ties were his only con­cerns be­fore Salah and De­jan Lovren ef­fec­tively sealed Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fi­ca­tion be­fore half-time.

There was none of the ten­sion of last sea­son’s must-win fi­nale against Mid­dles­brough nor the fa­tigue that had slowed Liver­pool’s ap­proach to the fin­ish­ing line this sea­son. A week’s prepa­ra­tion for Brighton re-en­er­gised Klopp’s play­ers. The fort­night-long break be­fore the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal will be em­braced by the Liver­pool man­ager for the same rea­son.

The hosts could have been ahead in­side eight min­utes when Shane Duffy sliced a back­pass to Solanke only for Ryan to gather at the young striker’s feet at the sec­ond at­tempt.

Duffy, the for­mer Ever­ton de­fender, then sur­vived two penalty claims that left An­field seething with the of­fi­cials.

Friend was un­moved when Duffy stooped for a headed clear­ance and the ball in­ad­ver­tently struck his arm. There was lit­tle jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for deny­ing the sec­ond claim, how­ever, when the Repub­lic of Ire­land in­ter­na­tional sent Salah tum­bling in­side the area with an awk­ward chal­lenge that made con­tact with the ball after the man.

Friend again waved play on, leav­ing the fourth of­fi­cial, Mike Jones, to cop an ear­ful from Klopp.

Ap­pre­hen­sion

When Sa­dio Mané then shot straight at Ryan hav­ing been played clean through by Solanke it could have been cue for ap­pre­hen­sion in the home fans.

But they ap­pear im­mune to that th­ese days. There is a be­lief in their team’s po­tency that the unerring ac­cu­racy of Salah has helped ce­ment, and the first time he found space in­side a crowded Brighton area another record fell at the feet of the Egypt in­ter­na­tional.

Salah moved ahead of Alan Shearer, Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Luis Suárez as the record goalscorer in a 38-game Premier League sea­son after Trent Alexan­der-Arnold had driven through the Brighton midfield and found Solanke on the edge of the area.

Solanke turned the ball on to Salah, who needed one touch to cre­ate space for a low left-foot fin­ish beyond the Brighton goal­keeper. It was his 44th goal in to­tal this sea­son. A hat-trick against Real Madrid on May 26th will be re­quired to equal Ian Rush’s all-time Liver­pool record.

Lovren de­liv­ered the com­fort of a two-goal lead with a tow­er­ing header from Robert­son’s invit­ing cross after Brighton cleared a cor­ner, but left the cen­tre-half un­marked for the re­turn ball.

The cush­ion should have ar­rived ear­lier but Mané, hav­ing found him­self through on goal once more, at­tempted to gift-wrap a sec­ond for Salah and en­abled Ryan to in­ter­cept be­fore Duffy blocked his sec­ond at­tempt on the goal-line.

Klopp went apoplec­tic in his tech­ni­cal area at Liver­pool’s in­dul­gence. But it never seemed likely to cost them. Ge­orginio Wi­j­nal­dum and Roberto Firmino wasted ex­cel­lent chances be­fore the break – sev­eral in the Brazil­ian’s case – but the score­line of­fered a more ac­cu­rate re­flec­tion of Liver­pool’s dom­i­nance when Solanke struck his first league goal for the club. It was an ex­cel­lent fin­ish too, cre­ated by Salah, who took Firmino’s pass and evaded two chal­lenges be­fore re­leas­ing Solanke in­side the area.

The Chelsea academy grad­u­ate gave Ryan no chance with a pow­er­ful drive that flew in via the un­der­side of the bar.

To cap a per­fect af­ter­noon for Klopp’s team the fi­nal goal of the home sea­son fell to the pop­u­lar Robert­son, per­fectly placed to open his Liver­pool ac­count after the sub­sti­tute Danny Ings’ cross de­flected the ball into his path with five min­utes re­main­ing.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: GETTY IM­AGES

Mo­hamed Salah needed one touch to cre­ate space for a low left-foot fin­ish for Liver­pool’s first goal.

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