The future once again looks bright for Liverpool, but Leicester’s self-destruction is now almost complete
It’s been an unusual football season and if Liverpool easing to a 3-0 victory at Leicester inspired by Curtis Jones makes textbook sense right now in mid-May, it’s worth taking a step back in time.
You only have to go back a few months. On Saturday February 11, Leicester thrashed Spurs 4-1 and, despite a troubled campaign, had climbed to 13th in the table with 24 points from 22 games. Not great, but okay. They were only five points behind 10th-placed Liverpool and four points behind Aston Villa. They were six points clear of Bournemouth.
Arsenal were also six points clear of Manchester City, who were under significant pressure from Manchester United and Newcastle, while brave little Chelsea were above Liverpool and as high as ninth. A lot has happened since then.
Leicester, for instance, have won only once in 14 games. Liverpool, for instance, have now won seven straight and might for the second time in three seasons salvage a Champions League finish that had appeared beyond them.
All the above information cautions against bold predictions but with Liverpool in this mood it’s hard to see how they don’t now finish the season with victories over Aston Villa and Southampton; Newcastle and Man United certainly can’t now expect to retain their top-four spots through any outside assistance.
Liverpool really are a totally different beast now, a team seemingly released to play since going out of the Champions League so tamely to Real Madrid. At that point the idea of a top-four finish seemed ludicrous. The new Trent Alexander-Arnold role and freer style of football has almost felt like a pressure-off experiment that has worked so splendidly that the pressure is now back on; but Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool playing like this are not a team that buckles under pressure.
Alexander-Arnold’s own form has been transformed by his new more advance role, but Jones too has benefited from greater freedom to do more work further up the pitch and he certainly didn’t take his two goals tonight like a man with four Premier League goals to his name.
Both were expertly assisted by Mo Salah, who in the second half made it a hat-trick of assists with a slightly lower tariff free-kick tee-up for Alexander-Arnold to arc the ball beyond Daniel Iversen from a more welcoming angle of attack.
Those first two assists and finishes were things of beauty, though. The first a great spot to see the run of Jones beyond a thoroughly discombobulated Wout Faes, who had been the man caught out by the initial extremely basic long, straight ball from Alisson that he treated like a grenade to allow Luis Diaz to steal in and claim possession in a dangerous area with Leicester’s defence suddenly way short of being set.
Salah’s cross and Jones’ finish were exemplary, but it was such a familiar story for Leicester this season. Their defending is at times utterly diabolical, as to be fair it pretty much has to be to drag a team boasting James Maddison and Harvey Barnes into this kind of now desperate trouble.
Leicester, still befuddled and bewildered by the first goal, promptly leaving Jones unmarked to receive a smart pass from Salah and smack home the second was just about the most relegated any non-Southampton team has looked all season.
They can’t be entirely ruled out because their attacking qualities mean they could get a result anywhere at any time; they are still the leading scorers in the bottom half, have still scored more goals than Europe-chasing Aston Villa.
But that attacking quality has got them nowhere in the last three months and the situation is now truly dire. A team that has taken six points from 14 games needs four from the last two to have any realistic chance and even that may not be good enough. A final-day home game against West Ham offers hope; the trip to Newcastle that precedes it not so much. That game is another Monday night one and could well seal Leicester’s fate.
It’s hard to blame the current regime for the mess Leicester are in, or for having to hand Jonny Evans a first start since October with Caglar Soyuncu unavailable. But it’s also impossible to make any kind of case that Leicester have shown any greater fight or quality since Dean Smith and the gang took over. It’s now eight goals conceded in two games since the desperately damaging failure to beat either Leeds or Everton in back-to-back six-pointers.
The defending is back to the very darkest days of autumn when the seeds for this disastrous season were sown, when Arsenal, Brighton and Spurs all filled their boots before a run of five wins in eight pre-World Cup games appeared to at least have staved off the threat of anything as horrendous as what is now coming to pass.
There were signs last year of Leicester’s frailty, but they still finished eighth on the back of successive fifth-place finishes. Slipping further back into mid-table, behind your Brightons and Aston Villas, would have been disappointing but understandable. This has been just harrowingly bad. They were competent here for 25 minutes… and then they weren’t. There really was very little to offer any kind of hope for that Newcastle game.
But while Leicester contemplate a now likely return to the Championship, Liverpool can look forward with great confidence. Even if their sprint finish ultimately does prove to come too late to salvage Champions League football they’ve at least shown that they are no busted flush and a more serious challenge for the top honours can once again be expected.
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