Jürgen Klopp had said there are five millions ways to win a game and in a routine victory that ensures Manchester United can feel Liverpool breathing down their necks, Trent Alexander-Arnold exhibited one of the finer ways in which to score a goal. Alexander-Arnold emphatically sealed victory with a stunning free-kick and he could have hardly picked a better moment given Gareth Southgate and his assistant, Steve Holland, were among those in attendance. Alexander-Arnold, who again played as an inverted full-back, popping up centrally, arrowed his strike into the top corner, cementing a seventh straight win after a fine double by the excellent Curtis Jones.
Liverpool railroaded lowly Leicester, scoring twice inside three first-half minutes, to earn a healthy buffer and Alexander-Arnold capped victory after the returning Jonny Evans was deemed to have fouled Jordan Henderson, the Liverpool captain. The only shock was Mohamed Salah firing wide on 79 minutes after being freed as Liverpool went in search of a fourth goal. Liverpool’s late push to qualify for the Champions League continues to gather pace but Leicester’s thoughts are firmly elsewhere. If Leicester are to survive, a team that has won one of their previous 15 matches, must win one – if not both – of their remaining matches. And even then that may prove insufficient.
For a reminder of how the outlook has changed for Leicester, on this day two years ago they were cavorting with the FA Cup after lifting the trophy for the first time in their history at Wembley. Five of the starting lineup from that day, which was played in front of a limited 20,000 crowd owing to the pandemic, also began here, including the club captain Evans, who made his first league start since October after a hamstring complaint. Evans initially seemed to provide a welcome calm but two Liverpool goals inside three minutes soon shifted even the slightest sense of comfort.
Now they are staring at relegation to the Championship, seven years on from their unthinkable 5,000-1 title win. The galling thing for the interim manager Dean Smith is that until Jones’s first goal, on 33 minutes, Leicester had kept Liverpool at arm’s length. Luis Díaz, one of two Liverpool changes from victory over Brentford last time out, skittled a shot against the side netting a few minutes earlier. Then a long ball downfield by Alisson altered the picture. Wout Faes did not deal with the ball and Díaz was first to it. Henderson, Klopp’s other change, found Salah, who sent a ball towards the back post. By the time Boubakary Soumaré spied Jones in his peripheral vision it was too late and Jones arrived to sweep the ball in with his left foot.
It was a painful goal from a Leicester perspective but the pain was about to get much worse. Cody Gakpo accelerated clear of Wilfred Ndidi and Soumaré on halfway and played in Salah, who fed the roaming Jones with a cute pass. Jones collected the ball on his right foot, swivelled and promptly smacked the ball beyond Daniel Iversen with his next touch. By now – with 36 minutes on the clock – any grains of belief had been shredded. A couple of supporters headed for the concourses. Liverpool would have added a third seconds later but for Iversen’s instinctive stop to deny Gakpo. Smith placed his hands on his head as Gakpo soared through on goal and was slapping his thighs as Liverpool squandered another chance before the interval.
The slate-grey skies at half-time married with a bleak forecast for Leicester, who visit Newcastle before hosting Brighton on the final day. Last week, after a humiliating defeat at Fulham, Smith cancelled the players’ day off and this week the end-of-season awards night was canned. The Leicester chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, naturally struck an upbeat tone in his programme notes. “I feel sure our fatewill be determined by our own actions,” he said, but failure to yield victory means they will be relying on their rivals to do them a favour or two from here.
Leicester did not roll over and Alisson had to make the first notable save of the second half. Harvey Barnes exchanged passes with Jamie Vardy and then Youri Tielemans before picking the ball up on the edge of the Liverpool 18-yard box. Barnes took aim with his right foot but Alisson flew to his left and pushed a curling shot wide with a strong right hand. Leicester’s lax defending always offered Liverpool encouragement and Díaz was allowed to trickle an inviting ball across the six-yard box. The full-back Ricardo Pereira, who scored to send Leicester into a first European semi-final 13 months ago, was unsurprisingly rusty on his return from injury. Luckily for Leicester, no red shirts were on hand to prod in.
But when Evans felled Henderson Liverpool seized the opportunity to add a third goal. Salah back-heeled a free-kick half a yard into the path of Alexander-Arnold, who lashed an unstoppable strike high into the top corner. Alexander-Arnold wheeled away and embarked on a knee slide in front of the pocket of Liverpool supporters. Ibrahima Konaté decided to copy his celebration and the rest of the red shirts soon joined him to turn up the volume.