Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp likened his side’s victory at Burnley to winning “a semi-final” that takes them to Sunday’s “final” against Crystal Palace and the chance to seal a top-four finish.
Liverpool’s incredible win at West Bromwich Albion on Sunday kept their Champions League hopes alive and at Turf Moor they built on their last-gasp weekend heroics with a victory that was much tighter than the scoreline suggests.
A cool finish from Roberto Firmino turned the game Liverpool’s way then a first club goal for Nathaniel Phillips and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s late drive made the points safe and improved the Reds’ goal difference.
The Reds are now in the fourth Champions League spot, level on points with fifth-placed Leicester City and with a goal difference four better than the Foxes.
Klopp’s side host the Eagles in Roy Hodgson’s last game in charge in four days’ time, with 10,000 fans inside Anfield.
The Foxes are at home to Tottenham while Chelsea, who are a point better off than both, are at Aston Villa.
“Today was a semi-final,” Klopp told Sky Sports. “We had to win the semi-final and we did.
“Nothing is decided yet but we improved our position and we have the final. That’s what we needed. It’s what we deserve because this was a top performance.
“Now we have to make sure we recover quickly. We have a thin squad in some positions. We have to wrap them in cotton wool.
“I can’t wait for the 10,00 fans at Anfield. Nothing is decided – Palace are strong.”
Having required a sensational injury-time goal from goalkeeper Alisson to complete a comeback and beat West Brom at the weekend, the Reds endured another stressful encounter at Turf Moor.
They were harried all over the pitch throughout by a committed home side keen to impress their 3,000 fans and provide them with an end to a terrible run of home form.
Liverpool struggled to deal with the Clarets’ energetic pressing, especially in the first-half, with the home side’s physicality posing a challenge the Reds failed at times to deal with.
However, despite their relative inexperience at the back, Phillips and Rhys Williams did well on the whole against the in-form Chris Wood, with the former even adding a welcome goalscoring element to his play.
Having come up for a corner, the 24-year-old was perfectly placed to head home when Mane swung over a cross from the left – his first goal in what has been an unexpected but vital 20 appearances for the injury-hit Reds this season.
Phillips also positioned himself perfectly on the line to clear a Ben Mee header that would have given the visitors a far more challenging final 20 minutes.
As it was, they snatched a third, with Oxlade-Chamberlain scoring his first goal – a fine finish after evading Charlie Taylor – at the end of a season hampered by injury as well as long spells on the bench.
It was Firmino’s goal, though, that had much earlier provided the crucial breakthrough, his low finish from Andy Robertson’s pull-back being the first shot the visitors had managed on target in a frantic and often end-to-end first half.
It was not a comfortable experience for Klopp’s side but not much has been during their run of nine games unbeaten that has put them on the verge of salvaging something from this hugely disappointing season.
“It never is easy,” Klopp told BBC Sport. “I can’t remember an easy game against Burnley.
“What a job Sean Dyche is doing here. The way they play is so tricky to defend against. They are smart.
“Apart from a nervy start passing-wise, we had to adapt to the atmosphere in the stadium, but then we played really good football.”
The Reds are now into the top four for the first time since February off the back of a fourth straight victory – their longest winning run of the campaign.
One more will be enough unless Leicester run riot against Tottenham and significantly improve their goal difference.
Burnley have now extended an unwanted club record to 10 consecutive top-flight home league games without a win, dating back to January.
With fans back inside Turf Moor, the home side were clearly in a mood to make amends, harrying all over the pitch, snapping into tackles and diving in to block shots.
James Tarkowski and Mee were typically combative in an attempt to protect goalkeeper Will Norris, starting his first Premier League game for the club.
Things could have been different had Wood not fired an effort wide after nipping in behind the Liverpool defence to get on to a long ball forward, but this was indicative of the lack of ruthlessness that has, at times, blighted their season.
“We’ve had a really tough season,” Dyche told BBC Sport. “We’ve had some knocks on the way.
“I thought we gave a good account of ourselves. We have actually played pretty well over the last few weeks but we haven’t taken our chances.
“We could have been effective in the final third when it really counts. That’s probably been my biggest bug.”
There is little more Dyche could have asked from his players both in this game and the league campaign, which has again seem them defy their relatively small budget to stay in the division.
However Dyche will be eager to end on a high at Sheffield United before a summer that the long-serving manager will hope sees more investment than in the previous close season.
“There’s always a lot to do here,” said Dyche. “It’s a restart every summer. We will see what happens and what can be done investment wise.
“We have a base here to work on and it’s how we layer up on top of that to find the next generation of players to keep moving forward.”
Liverpool haven’t lost any of the 14 Premier League matches in which Roberto Firmino has scored the opening goal of the game (W12 D2) – including winning each of the last 11 in a row.
Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino is only the second player to score in three consecutive Premier League away games at Turf Moor, after Anthony Martial. Indeed, the Brazilian has now scored as many times in his last three league appearances as in the 19 matches beforehand (3).
Including a spell at Stuttgart last season, Nathaniel Phillips’ header was his first career goal as a professional, on what was his 20th appearance for Liverpool across all competitions.
Since the start of last season, Burnley have lost all five of their Premier League games without Nick Pope in goal, conceding 3.4 goals per game on average, compared to just 1.2 in the 70 top-flight games in which he has started for the Clarets.
Since the start of the 2017-18 season, only Kevin de Bruyne (49) has more Premier League assists than Liverpool full-back Andrew Robertson (35), who assisted twice in a Premier League game for the first time since April 2019.