Gakpo looks forward
The box fresh kit pointed to a new-look Liverpool. And as one era passes, so the Reds can start looking to the future.
Fitting, then, that Cody Gakpo continues to show he can spearhead Jurgen Klopp’s side over the coming years.
The Holland international has in recent weeks underlined his position as Roberto Firmino’s heir apparent down the centre of Liverpool’s attack, another false nine in the making.
READ MORE: Liverpool player ratings as Firmino and one other get perfect score
READ MORE: FSG left with no choice after Champions League blow to ignite new Liverpool era
And while not his best performance, Gakpo remained willing with runs in behind the Aston Villa defence and an eagerness to drop deep and win possession.
He took a boot to the chest from Tyrone Mings for his troubles, and only a hugely debatable offside call from referee John Brooks – with whom Klopp has recently had dealings – prevented him notching an equaliser shortly after half-time.
While Luis Diaz’s display was very much one of a player having recently been sidelined for a lengthy period, he will benefit from the coming pre-season, so to Diogo Jota, the injured Darwin Nunez and the irrepressible Mohamed Salah. Even Egyptian Kings need a breather.
And with Gakpo warming to his task, Firmino know he is leaving the Liverpool attack in safe hands.
Kop send Milner message
Of all the banners draped around Anfield, there was one that raised a smile.
“Ribena for my men, we ride at dawn” was the declaration on the Kop, a knowing reference to the drink that has long fuelled James Milner during his time at Liverpool.
Nearby, there was another that simply offered a message of thanks to the veteran midfielder. After the final whistle, Milner made a point of trotting over and signing the banner.
Milner was rightly given a rousing reception both on his introduction from the bench and during the post-match guard of honour, the Anfield crowd appreciative of his contribution during eight years at the club.
Only Firmino has played more times than the 37-year-old under Klopp at Liverpool, with Milner the one player to have featured in all nine major finals during the German’s tenure. Quite the claim.
Both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita were also given warm applause in recognition of what might have been at Liverpool but for injury.
Arthur Melo, meanwhile, will forever be one of the most curious Liverpool signings of recent times after a loan spell decimated by injury. Incredibly, his last appearance at Anfield remains when lining up for Barcelona in their memorable 4-0 Champions League semi-final defeat four years ago.
Taking the ball to the corner flag in injury time to win a free-kick and secure Liverpool’s passage that evening? James Milner. The professional’s professional. And celebrated Ribena drinker.
Champions League regret
It wasn’t just the departing players Anfield waved goodbye to on an emotion-drenched afternoon.
The stirring, belated finale wasn’t enough to earn Liverpool the victory needed to not realistically say farewell to hopes of Champions League football next season.
In truth, the most recent results for Newcastle United and Manchester United meant it was in any case out of the hands of Jurgen Klopp’s side.
And that the Reds were even in with a shout going into the final fortnight of the season was testament to the impressive run of form on which they have embarked over the last six weeks.
How they will lament the defeats earlier in the campaign to Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and, most damagingly, Bournemouth that ultimately gave them far too much to do. The nagging regret will linger for some time.
Indeed, there was a sense for much of this game Liverpool were aware the gap was too far to bridge, unable to rouse themselves until Roberto Firmino’s late intervention. Klopp, who watched the game from the executive area of the Main Stand, was right to warn it would be a difficult afternoon.
Liverpool haven’t spent a single day in the top four this season. That says it all.