Leicester’s relegation fears deepened as Curtis Jones starred in Liverpool’s convincing 3-0 win at the King Power Stadium on Monday Night Football.
Jones struck twice inside four minutes (33, 36) as Jurgen Klopp’s side wrestled control of the contest and Leicester threatened another first-half collapse, seven days on from their 5-3 defeat at Fulham.
Trent Alexander-Arnold was teed up by Mohamed Salah at a free-kick on the edge of Leicester’s penalty area for a brilliant third (71). With a hat-trick of assists for the first time in his Premier League career, Salah ought to have added a fourth as he bent a shot wide with only Daniel Iversen standing in his way.
Leicester reportedly cancelled their end-of-season awards night this week in acknowledgement of the severity of their situation. It is now one win in 14 games for the Foxes, who remain marooned in the relegation zone, two points adrift of safety.
Liverpool move to within a point of Manchester United in fourth place having played a game more than their rivals. On Jones, Jamie Carragher said: “We’re seeing the best of him right now. He’s been a revelation in this attacking midfield role.”
Leicester: Iversen (6), Ricardo Pereira (5), Faes (4), Evans (6), Castagne (5), Tielemans (6), Ndidi (5), Soumare (5), Maddison (6), Vardy (5), Barnes (6).
Subs: Souttar (n/a), Daka (6), Thomas (6), Tete (5).
Liverpool: Alisson (7), Alexander-Arnold (8), Konate (7), Van Dijk (7), Robertson (7), Henderson (7), Fabinho (7), Jones (9), Salah (8), Gakpo (7), Diaz (7).
Subs: Milner (n/a), Elliott (6), Jota (6), Carvalho (n/a)
Player of the match: Curtis Jones.
How Jones reigned at the King Power
Leicester boss Dean Smith challenged his players to carry the psychological burden of their relegation battle – and the hosts carved open the game’s first chance on a trademark swift transition which nearly exposed Liverpool’s high line.
James Maddison threaded an exquisite first-time pass for Harvey Barnes to gallop into the final third and slip through Jamie Vardy, but Alisson closed down the angle and smothered the shot.
- Jonny Evans, Wilfred Ndidi and Ricardo Pereira returned for Leicester’s crucial game with Liverpool. Defender Evans will make his first Premier League start since October after injury.
- Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson returned with Luis Diaz as Diogo Jota dropped to the bench and Darwin Nunez was missing from the squad.
Sitting two points from safety with three games remaining, the Foxes – who welcomed Jonny Evans for the first time in a starting capacity since October – were desperate for victory, but they were undone with Liverpool’s first meaningful attack.
From Alisson’s deep clearance, Timothy Castagne played Luiz Diaz onside before Wout Faes allowed the ball to drop over his shoulder. Jordan Henderson picked out Mohamed Salah, and from his cross Jones arrived at the far post to convert.
“When Liverpool are at their very best, they cause mayhem,” Gary Neville said at the interval. “It was a classic Klopp goal and a classic Liverpool goal.”
Leeds’ 2-2 draw with Newcastle on Saturday added extra pressure on the 2016 champions and dropped them to second bottom in the Premier League – and they crumbled to concede a quickfire second.
It was another marginal offside call as Salah laid on Cody Gakpo’s threaded ball to tee up Jones to swivel and fire beyond Iversen.
“He’s in the form of his life at the moment,” Carragher added on Jones. “There was the thought that maybe it wasn’t happening for him at times this season, but he’s in the best form of his career.”
Smith, who replaced Brendan Rodgers until the end of the season last month, called on his players to keep their heads, but Gakpo might have added a third before half-time when he shot straight at Iversen.
Leicester have collected 13 points from losing positions in 2023 – more than any other side. They needed a swift response after the restart but Alisson denied Barnes with a fingertip save.
Smith gambled as Patson Daka and Tete replaced Barnes and Wilfred Ndidi – but the visitors retained the greater threat. Midway through the second period, Salah cut inside Luke Thomas and curled a shot that was batted away by Iversen.
Liverpool weren’t content with their night’s work – in particular Alexander-Arnold. Leicester were unhappy with referee Craig Pawson with the awarding of a free-kick for a challenge by Evans on Henderson.
But after Salah rolled the ball with his studs, Alexander-Arnold curled an exquisite strike high into top corner to compound Leicester’s misery.
Salah missed a glorious chance when put through by Gakpo but the Egyptian inexplicably shot wide.
He could afford to smile. The Leicester fans who headed for the exits long before the final whistle certainly could not. Two years to the day since watching their side lift the FA Cup, they find themselves in the relegation zone with two games remaining.
Further signs of Liverpool laying down marker for 2023/24
Sky Sports’ Ben Grounds:
Jurgen Klopp has spoken bullishly about how his Liverpool side can close the gap to Manchester City next season. Here was further evidence to back up those claims.
Wild inconsistencies in results – beating Manchester United 7-0 and Bournemouth 9-0 but losing to struggling Leeds, their only home defeat of the season – had left the Reds 20 points adrift of the Premier League leaders going into the weekend.
It has been more common for the two to push each other all the way to the final day of the season, Liverpool twice coming second by just a point, and despite their most recent troubles Klopp expects normal service to be resumed when the new campaign kicks off in August.
Liverpool arrived in the Midlands on a six-match winning run, their best sequence for more than a year. Their return to form has given a glimpse of the level the side used to – and Klopp believes will again – play at.
Alexander-Arnold stole the show here during Liverpool’s last win at Leicester- scoring one and laying on two assists over three years ago in a 4-0 win. That result – when Leicester were second in the table back in December 2019 – was viewed as being the moment when Klopp truly believed a first Premier League title was within reach.
The Reds boss has spoken regularly in recent weeks about using the end to the campaign as a platform for next season, and the nature of Jones’ double was vintage Liverpool. A ruthless swotting aside of their opponents. Leicester never recovered.
Smith: Survival solution simple – we must win
Leicester manager Dean Smith told Sky Sports: “We concede an awful goal from our point of view. We wanted to play in their half and make their centre-backs run back to goal but one ball beats our back four and then they score another soon after. Then you’re chasing a game against a supremely talented team.
“Goals change games. Two goals that are marginally onside. We wanted to make a game of it in the second half, we did at times, but the third goal kills the game. It’s never a free-kick. Really disappointed.
“It is a group of really good footballers but we came up against a team that overran us physically today. It’s pretty simple. We need to win our next game. It will be tough at St James’ Park. It would be nice to take the lead for once.”
Klopp: European football secure
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp told Sky Sports: “Sensational first goal. Top second goal. We should have scored immediately after. Third goal, what a wonderful routine. Love it. Good win, super important for us. That win, I think we are guaranteed Europa League next season. Tonight I’m really happy.
“That’s the best free-kick routine we have. We should have scored three like that. Now we can take it direct or roll it both sides, so it makes it more likely we score from these situations. We have to use it more often.
“I think they [European rivals] would have preferred we lose tonight. I would in their shoes. I don’t think it’s likely but if they slip, we have to be there. Will they slip? I don’t know. Will we win both games? I don’t know.”
Player of the match – Curtis Jones
This was Jones’ ninth successive Premier League start – his longest run in the Liverpool team. The midfielder has only started eight of his previous 55 league matches.
Injuries to Thiago Alcantara, Naby Keita and Arthur Melo has enabled the local lad to stake his claim to a regular berth, and he continues to grab his chance with both hands.
A third of Jones’ Premier League goals came before half-time in this game. It is now three goals in four matches for the rising 22-year-old after notching as many in his previous 57 appearances.
Alan Smith said: “Jones doesn’t make the headlines too many times, but he deserves to with his two beautifully-taken goals. It got Liverpool rolling and they never looked back.”
With Alexander-Arnold also on target, this was a win born and made in Liverpool.
Liverpool host Aston Villa on Saturday, kick-off at 3pm, before travelling to lowly Southampton on the final day of the season.
Leicester have another Monday Night Football encounter to look forward to when they travel to Newcastle next week, live on Sky Sports, before hosting West Ham on the final day of the season on May 28.
Leicester’s alarming slump – Opta stats
- Leicester has lost 22 games in the Premier League this season, only losing more once before in a full campaign in the competition – 25 in their maiden season in the competition in 1994-95 when they were ultimately relegated.
- Liverpool have won each of their last seven Premier League games, with only Manchester City stringing a longer run of wins together this season (11 currently), while it’s the Reds’ longest winning streak in the competition in over a year, since a 10-game run between January and April 2022
- Leicester are the only side in the big five European leagues without a clean sheet in league competition since the 2022 World Cup in December, conceding in each of their 21 games since then.
- Liverpool have won nine of their last 12 Premier League encounters with Leicester (D1 L2), as many victories as in their previous 21 against the Foxes (D5 L7).