Jürgen Klopp admitted to feeling relieved after Liverpool guaranteed a Europa League place next season courtesy of a 3-0 victory at Leicester but challenged his players to keep their rivals for a top-four spot “on their toes” as they continued their late push to qualify for the Champions League.
Curtis Jones scored twice before Trent Alexander-Arnold capped a seventh straight victory with an excellent free-kick in front of the England manager, Gareth Southgate, to move within a point of both fourth-placed Manchester United and third-placed Newcastle, both of whom have a game in hand on Liverpool. A sixth-placed finish this season now is the worst-case scenario for Liverpool, who host Aston Villa on Saturday before a final-day trip to Southampton.
Klopp conceded he seriously doubted Liverpool’s chances of playing in Europe as recently as six weeks ago. Liverpool were 10th after a 3-0 defeat at Wolves in February but they have lost two league games since, the last at Manchester City in April. Asked whether he was relieved to secure European football after a testing season, Klopp replied: “Massively. Six, seven weeks ago I didn’t believe it could happen. What we lacked at the time was obviously consistency.
“There was only one way for us to do it, by pretty much winning all of our games. It is crazy but that was the situation we were in. We knew before the game that we would qualify for the Europa League if we won the game, which is absolutely great from where we have come from.
“The rest is not in our hands but we know we have to win all the games until the end of the season to have a chance [of qualifying for the Champions League]. Our job is to keep the pressure on. It’s not likely, but if not then this is already better than we could have expected six, seven weeks ago.”
Leicester travel to Newcastle next Monday before hosting West Ham on the final day but, significantly, their destiny is no longer in their control. Dean Smith, Leicester’s interim manager, insisted he can keep the club in the Premier League despite a sixth defeat in nine matches. “Yeah, of course I do,” Smith said. “I would be stupid if I sat here and said ‘No’.”