Liverpool close in on Champions League with West Ham win
Reds need victory at Anfield against Boro on the final day to ensure a top four finish
West Ham United 0 Liverpool 4
Liverpool held their nerve on Sunday to thrash West Ham and also hammer a nail into the coffin of Arsenal's ambition of a top four finish. The Gunners' 4-1 victory at Stoke the previous day had given the north London side hope that they could yet make it 21 consecutive seasons in the Champions League.
But the Reds replied in emphatic style at the London Stadium, scoring four goals and securing three points that move them four points clear of Arsenal.
All they need do is beat Middlesbrough at Anfield on Sunday to ensure a place in the top four. Arsenal, for their part, must beat Sunderland at the Emirates on Tuesday and then defeat Everton at the same venue five days later while hoping the Reds slip up.
There is also the possibility that Manchester City, currently fourth, could lose their two remaining matches as another avenue for the Gunners to get into Europe's showpiece tournament. Like Arsenal they have two games remaining and are three points clear of the Gunners with a better goal difference.
That means they effectively need one win, and as mediocre as City have been this season, will they really slip up at home to West Brom on Tuesday and away at Watford on the final day of the season?
It is an unlikely scenario, but then as Daniel Sturridge showed on Sunday surprises do happen. The Liverpool striker scored his first goal since January in helping the Reds rout West Ham, the England forward running onto a sweet pass from Philippe Coutinho to beat Adrian on 35 minutes.
Coutinho got in on the act after the break, the Brazilian scoring twice in five minutes, before Divock Origi added a fourth with a fierce strike 14 minutes from time.
West Ham were awful in the one-sided encounter, their hopelessness enshrined in Andre Ayew's howler on the stroke of half-time when he missed a sitter from two yards out. Already being described by The Independent as possibly the "worst miss in Premier League history", the gaffe was a miserable way for West Ham to end their debut season in their new stadium.
For Liverpool, only an aberration next Sunday against already-relegated Boro will prevent them playing in the Champions League next season. "It was an important game for us, we had the right attitude and we got an important victory," said Sturridge, who added that the team "rose to the occasion".
As for his own role in the victory, the striker said he felt "sharp" and when asked about rumours linking him with a possible exit from Anfield in the summer, he said: "I don't have any worries about next season. I have a good relationship with the manager, and the fans have been brilliant. I'm just looking forward to the last game next week and getting the job done now."
When it was put to Jurgen Klopp after the game that his boys had handled the pressure of the occasion well, the Liverpool manager replied: "Part of our lives is to handle pressure. To ignore the bad part of pressure and use the good part of pressure. That's our job. I thought we did really well."
And Klopp is confident his side won't fall victim to complacency on the last day of the season. "The first sentence the players said [back] in the dressing room was 'one more time, one more game'," said Klopp. "And we will stay focused, 100 per cent. We know about the situation, we know about the difficulty of the next game and nobody will go into this game and underestimate Middlesbrough even one per cent."