Liverpool keeps alive top-four hopes, pushes Leicester toward relegation with 3-0 win
LEICESTER, England (AP) — Liverpool plunged Leicester closer to relegation and kept alive its own chances of finishing in the top four of the English Premier League with a 3-0 win on Monday.
Curtis Jones was the unlikely scorer of the first two goals before Trent Alexander-Arnold whipped an indirect free kick into the top corner to wrap up a mismatch at King Power Stadium between teams heading in opposite directions.
For Liverpool, a seventh straight victory in an impressive end-of-season rally secured at least a spot in the Europa League and moved the fifth-placed team a point behind both Newcastle and Manchester United in the race for the final two Champions League qualification positions, behind Manchester City and Arsenal.
Liverpool has two games left — against Aston Villa at home and already-relegated Southampton away — while Newcastle and Man United have three to play.
“I don’t think it’s likely but if they slip, we have to be there,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said. “Will they slip? I don’t know. Will we win both games? I don’t know.”
For Leicester, morale could hardly be lower with its top-flight status seriously under threat just seven years after winning the league in one of the great underdog stories in the history of sports.
The Foxes are in next-to-last place and two points from safety with two games remaining. They are at third-placed Newcastle, for one of the most daunting away games in the league, and at home to West Ham.
Leicester has won just one of its last 14 league games and has conceded eight goals in its last two, after the 5-3 loss at Fulham last week.
Jones is an academy product enjoying a fine end to an injury-hit season. The 22-year-old midfielder had scored only once this season before running onto Mohamed Salah’s right-wing cross to the far post and neatly side-footing home a finish in the 33rd.
The groans from the home fans inside the stadium were already audible and they increased three minutes later when Salah again picked out Jones, who controlled the ball in a central position at the edge of the area, spun and smashed a dipping effort into the far corner.
Salah completed a hat trick of assists when he tapped a free kick backward with the sole of his foot to give Alexander-Arnold a clearer view on goal to curl a shot high and beyond goalkeeper Daniel Iversen into the corner in the 71st.
“It is a group of really good footballers,” Leicester interim manager Dean Smith said, “but we came up against a team that overran us physically today. It’s pretty simple.”
Alexander-Arnold has also come into his own in the final section of the season after being deployed in a hybrid defender-midfielder role, a tactical switch that helps to cover his defensive fallibilities and pushes other midfielders — like Jones — further forward. It has benefitted both players.
Since the positional tweak, Alexander-Arnold has picked up six assists along with his goal against Leicester.
Liverpool’s return to form might have come too late to qualify for the Champions League, but it at least signals that Klopp’s team could return to being a title contender next season.
Klopp’s repeated fist pumps in front of Liverpool fans after the match was a sign for them to maybe keep the faith, with Newcastle and Man United perhaps needing two wins from their final three games.
Newcastle has the tougher finish, at home to Brighton and away to Chelsea either side of a home match against Leicester, which — with a win — could yet condemn the Foxes to relegation.
Leicester might have to win both of its remaining games, but looks like a beaten group of players.
“We know what we need to do now,” Smith said.