Liverpool goes 13 points clear of Leicester with 4-0 victory
|Toronto Star 26 Dec 2019 at 20:18|
LEICESTER, ENGLAND—When Liverpool lifts the English Premier League trophy in May — barring a monumental collapse — the end of a three-decade title drought will owe so much to Trent Alexander-Arnold.
No game more so than the complete all-round performance from the right back that tore apart the closest challenger on Thursday night.
After a key role in the first three goals, Alexander-Arnold netted himself to add the final flourish in a 4-0 victory over Leicester that sent Liverpool 13 points clear.
And that’s with a game in hand, and half of the season remaining.
Victory in the chill of central England to complete a packed Boxing Day programme came five days after the European champion added the Club World Cup to its trophy haul.
“We played really good football, especially after all the travelling we’ve done and the intense period we’ve had,” Alexander-Arnold said. “It probably is our best performance of the season.”
Roberto Firmino netted the winner against Flamengo in Qatar and the forward completed two crosses from Alexander-Arnold at King Power Stadium.
The goal that suppressed any hope of a Leicester comeback came when James Milner grabbed the second of the night from the penalty spot in the 71st minute.
The move that led to the penalty being awarded inevitably came from another of Alexander-Arnold’s crosses which was handled by Leicester defender Caglar Soyuncu.
If Leicester had any hope of repeating its remarkable 5,000-1 title triumph from 2016, it surely ended with this first home loss of the season.
“The big thing that Liverpool have is confidence, having won competitions,” Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said. “They have got that feeling there now, the squad is very strong, and they will be hard to shift in the second part of the season.”
And unlike when Rodgers was Liverpool manager in 2013-14, this is surely a title that can’t get away from the club trying for so long to land a 19th English championship — and the first in the post-1992 Premier League era.
“I can write the story myself: ‘Never before in the history of British football has a team had a bigger lead and lost the lead,’” Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said. “That sounds in my ear negative so why should we think about that?”
There was no doubting the significance of the occasion to Leicester, which turbo-charged a 10-match prematch build-up.
From cannons exploding fire to a light show, Leicester raised the tension. It just couldn’t manage a shot in the first half in a meek surrender when the defensive high line was exposed and Liverpool relished launching counterattacks.
If you are looking for a breakthrough, you look to Alexander-Arnold.
A cross was delivered with such precision in the 31st that either Mohamed Salah or Firmino could have got on the end of it. It was the Brazilian who soared highest to power in the header.
Sadio Mane spurned a chance to extend the lead before halftime, striking too casually at Kasper Schmeichel, whose double save frustrated Liverpool.
The frustration wouldn’t last long, once the only spell when Leicester’s attack came to life had been suppressed.
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Milner had been on the pitch barely a minute when Liverpool earned the penalty that the captain converted in the 71st.
It started a dizzying seven-minute spell when Leicester was blown apart.
Another deliver from Alexander-Arnold — low this time — was controlled by Firmino before he lifted the shot in and raced over to hug Klopp.
Then Alexander-Arnold got to savour the acclaim himself. The Englishman surged the length of the pitch to receive the ball from Mane and then slip the ball through Ben Chilwell’s legs for only his second goal of 2019.
“I don’t get on the scoresheet too often,” Alexander-Arnold said. “(It was) a good counterattack, I saw the space, and Sadio has played a lovely ball and I thought, ‘Hit it first time.’”
That he did, before going over to celebrate arms folded, beaming in front of the Liverpool fans. Soon, those hands are likely to be filled with another trophy. Maybe even some personal accolades.
Manchester City’s title challenge faded long ago, as the defending champion sits a point back of Leicester in third.
Below that, inconsistent form is rife.
Chelsea remains fourth despite losing a seventh game of the season earlier in the day, beaten 2-0 by a struggling Southampton side that lost 9-0 to Leicester two months ago.
Tottenham is three points behind Chelsea after recovering from losing to its west London rival by beating Brighton 2-1 on Boxing Day.
Sheffield United was behind Tottenham only on goal difference, riding high on its return to the top-flight, but it was still held by relegation-threatened Watford to 1-1.