Firmino Puts Newcastle And Man United's Champions League Qualification On Hold

Roberto Firmino rescued a point late on for Liverpool on his final Anfield appearance
17:22, 20 May 2023

Roberto Firmino’s dramatic equaliser on his final appearance for Liverpool at Anfield has given the Reds a slither of hope in their quest for the top four as they drew 1-1 with Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon. However, a win for Manchester United, and Newcastle United yet to play on Monday means that they are within touching distance of sealing Champions League status for the upcoming campaign.

The Brazilian struck in the 89th minute to put their celebrations from both Newcastle United and Manchester United, who thought that their places in next year’s Champions League were secured.

Villa had seemed largely comfortable throughout the match after Jacob Ramsey put them in front, but after Cody Gakpo saw an earlier goal disallowed, belief started to grow around Anfield. And it just had to be Firmino, one of the staples of Liverpool in the Jurgen Klopp era, to score a goal that gave his team a lifeline of finishing in the top four.

Momentum seemed to be with Liverpool heading into Saturday afternoon, having won eight Premier League games on the bounce. Their winning run may be at an end, but they can still dream of playing Champions League football once again next year. They have a better goal difference than rivals United, but they are reliant on United not picking up any points in their final two games, while they will need to beat relegated Southampton on the final day.


Newcastle’s Champions League qualification may have been put on hold, but a point against Leicester City on Monday night will see them join Europe’s elite next term. They have a better goal difference (seven) than Liverpool, so it would take a lot to go against them now. The celebrations look to only have been briefly stalled, and the clash with the Foxes looks to be some occasion where they could end up celebrating properly.

The Magpies’ incredible performances throughout the year would see them fully merit a top-four finish and it doesn’t seem like anything can stop them now . 20 years after they made it to the second group stage in Europe’s most prestigious competition, the Magpies have secured a triumphant return which will be a catalyst in their on-field evolution. Eddie Howe has worked wonders ever since he stepped through the door in 2021 and his success just shows what a manager can achieve with backing, and the right structure around him.

Since beating Newcastle to lift the Carabao Cup back in February, there had been concerns of Manchester United losing momentum. They were immediately thrashed 7-0 by Liverpool at Anfield, but they have still been able to win six games from 12 matches in the league since their Wembley triumph. 

The form of Liverpool in recent months had been the biggest worry in their quest for the top four, but Liverpool’s draw with Villa was very reassuring. United themselves have shown great character to get themselves over the line, particularly after suffering key injuries in defence to Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane, as well as the absence of a prolific striker. 

Casemiro got United on track at Bournemouth with an early goal to ensure that the Red Devils were doing their part on Saturday afternoon. 

United fans would  have been frustrated to see Ollie Watkins squander a penalty at Anfield, but that quickly faded as Ramsey fired in the opener for Villa a few minutes later. That news came as cause for extra celebration for United goalkeeper David de Gea. With Alisson conceding, the Spaniard was guaranteed the Premier League’s Golden Glove award, going on to pick up his 17th clean sheet against the Cherries.

This highlights the progress that United have made defensively under Ten Hag this year. With two games to spare, De Gea has doubled the number of clean sheets he managed in 2021-22. The veteran shot-stopper has also conceded 14 less goals than he did last year too. De Gea may not be the profile of goalkeeper that Ten Hag wants to take his team to the next level, but he has still played a huge role to try and get Champions League football back to Old Trafford in 2023-24.

Ten Hag deserves a lot of plaudits for how quickly he has tightened up United’s back line. There’s still much that can be improved on, but their defensive structure has been impressive and will be pivotal for them finishing inside the top four.

United’s destiny remains in their own hands and a lot will need to go wrong for them to be playing in the Europa League next season. Should they avoid defeat against Chelsea in their game in hand in midweek, they will secure their place in next year’s Champions League. Liverpool really needed three points against Villa and it looks like they will have to settle for Europa League football next term.

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