The duo of Mohamed Salah of Liverpool and Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City are the heroes on the final day of the English Premier league that ended on Sunday.
Egyptian sensation, Salah, set a new Premier League scoring record as Liverpool sealed a place in next season’s Champions League with an empathic victory over Brighton, and manager Jurgen Klopp believes the forward can “still improve so much”.
On the other hand, a dramatic 94th-minute winner from Gabriel Jesus gave Premier League champions Manchester City a 1-0 win over Southampton to ensure they became the first team ever to reach 100 points in an English top-flight season.
Meanwhile, it was an impressive Liverpool performance on a perfect sunny afternoon at Anfield and Klopp’s side lingered long after the final whistle, soaking up the celebratory atmosphere with the Champions League final against Real Madrid to come on 26 May.
“Two weeks’ break is perfect for us,” said Klopp. “We will be ready for the final. This group of players really deserve it. They keep moving to the next level.”
Salah was the centre of attention as he was feted on his side’s home pitch after the match. There was the Golden Boot for Premier League’s top scorer to be presented, the club’s player of the year trophy too.
The forward was clearly moved, and he shared the moment with his wife and young daughter.
It was his record goal that set the Reds on course to blowing Brighton away. The opener, a low finish from Dominic Solanke’s pass, was his 32nd goal of the campaign – the most by a player in a 38-game Premier League season.
Dejan Lovren doubled the lead by powerfully heading in Andrew Robertson’s cross and after the break it was more of the same – Liverpool continued to dominate.
Solanke smashed in his first goal for the club off the underside of the bar, having met Salah’s lay-off at the end of a strong run, while full-back Andrew Robertson also got his first Liverpool goal, sweeping in from close range with five minutes to play.
Liverpool would have slipped out of the top four had they lost and Chelsea beaten Newcastle, but they made sure the Blues’ performance – a 3-0 defeat at St James’ Park – was irrelevant.
Victory meant the Reds matched their fourth-place finish of last season – they would have moved up to third had Tottenham not edged a thrilling 5-4 win at home to Leicester – while Brighton ended their first top-flight campaign since 1983 in the safety of 15th.
What a remarkable season it has been for Egypt forward Salah, who signed from Roma for £34m last summer.
Some doubted his ability to perform in England following his disappointing spell at Chelsea, but the goal that broke the Premier League record was his 44th in 51 games for Liverpool in all competitions this season.
In the other match, Southampton still ended up celebrating as their narrow defeat combined with Swansea’s 2-1 defeat by Stoke City guaranteed them Premier League football next season.
For much of the match, City, who fielded four changes from midweek and played Raheem Sterling in an unfamiliar centre forward role, struggled to find their familiar rhythm and failed to register a single shot on target in the first half.
Dusan Tadic had an effort cleared off the line in the second half when City brought on Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz to ensure the pair notched up their fifth Premier League appearances of the season to qualify for a medal.
Saints looked to have secured the draw but, with time virtually up, Jesus latched on to Kevin de Bruyne’s excellent floated cross to produce a perfect lobbed finish past the advancing Alex McCarthy.
The goal sparked wild celebrations, with City boss Pep Guardiola joining in on the sidelines, leaping from the dugout and punching the air.
City’s magnificent campaign has ended with a record 16 away wins and 106 Premier League goals.