LONDON, May 21 (Reuters) - Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp expressed his pride on Sunday after his side sealed a top-four finish in the Premier League that had looked doubtful after a dreadful loss of form in January.
The Reds appeared to be in freefall at the turn of the year when they managed only one win in nine games in all competitions -- against lowly Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup -- and suffered league defeats by Hull City and Swansea City.
It scuppered their title hopes and raised questions about the depth of Klopp's squad but they edged home on Sunday, finishing fourth after a 3-0 victory over Middlesbrough kept them above fast-finishing Arsenal.
Providing they win a Champions League qualifier at the start of next season they will take their place in Europe's elite competition for only the second time in seven seasons, having missed out on Europe altogether this season.
"I'm not sure if (finishing in the top four) was the target of all the Liverpool supporters but I think pretty much the second best," Klopp told reporters.
"For a few weeks we knew that's the maximum we can achieve and we did it. It feels really outstandingly good at the moment.
"I think again we showed today that we deserve this position. Seventy-six points, that's an outstanding number. We all know what happened in January. I'm not sure all of us agree why."
A goal by Georginio Wijnaldum just before halftime settled Liverpool's nerves and Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana ensured the points after halftime as Liverpool ended one point above Arsene Wenger's Arsenal.
"I'm really proud of the boys, they did well," Klopp said. "That's probably what everybody wished before we started today and now we have it and we should celebrate it."
After the initial relief though, Klopp said it would be straight down to work to make sure Liverpool were ready to give a good account of themselves against Europe's elite.
"For me, it's the best competition, you want to be there and Liverpool needs to be there consistently," he said.
"We will be really strong and we will really fight for it because we want to be there. It's a fantastic competition and I think in the last 10 years Liverpool was not part of it too often.
"We have to make steps and the step for us is to be around the best teams in the world because we are one of the best clubs." (Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Clare Fallon)