After Trent Alexander-Arnold slotted a superb free-kick into the Leicester net with the certainty and power of a batsman nailing a cover drive, he ran to the Liverpool fans in the corner and shrugged. His message was clear. 3-0. Easy.
It was but this season has not been and that is the great conundrum facing Jurgen Klopp and his team as they desperately try to recoup all that was lost during the dysfunctional purgatory of the first two thirds of this year of football.
It was the seventh spin win in the Premier League for Liverpool. He was comfortable and at times convincing and carried many traditional Klopp characteristics. His side found their legs at the end of the season and that means fifth-placed Liverpool are now so tight on the shoulder of Newcastle and Manchester United in third and fourth places in the Champions League that they have to leave their mark.
Alexander-Arnold was magnificent here, his sometimes geometrically perfect passing. Mo Salah, with three assists, was also majestically on point, as was Curtis Jones, the young midfielder who recovered from a stress fracture in his leg to score twice in the opening three minutes. Luis Diaz was excellent too, and they missed the Colombian’s pace and directness during his own spell on the sidelines.
But where has all that gone this season? Where was it when Liverpool lost eight times in the Premier League to places like Wolves, Nottingham Forest, Brighton and Brentford and Bournemouth?
Curtis Jones scored twice as Liverpool beat Leicester 3-0 on Monday night
Trent Alexander-Arnold (left) followed to score a superb free-kick for the Reds’ third goal
Alexander-Arnold (right) struck the ball superbly from the 25-yard free kick which sailed into the net
That’s the question that will haunt Liverpool if they head into next season deprived of Champions League football. For all their recent improvement, Newcastle and United still have to make some serious missteps over the next 13 days to allow Liverpool to enter a competition in which they have so recently been prominent.
Leicester would gladly trade issues, of course. Dean Smith’s side were competitive here until Jones scored his first goal in the 33rd minute. After that, they were soft and vaguely disorganized. Their next game is at Newcastle next Monday and it says a lot about them that the biggest hope they have is that the other teams in and around the bottom three don’t win their games by then.
In the end, the Leicester supporters who were still in the stadium – and there weren’t many of them – serenaded their team in the worst possible way. “We’re going down,” they sang. Then it got worse. “You are not fit to wear the shirt”. It was all very sad for a club that won the Premier League seven years ago and the FA Cup in 2021.
LEICESTER (4-2-3-1): Iversen 6; Pereira 6 (Thomas 67min, 6), Faes 6, Evans 5.5 (Souttar 89), Castagne 6; Soumaré 6.5, Ndidi 6 (Daka 61.6); Maddison 6.5, Tielemans 5.5, Barnes 6 (Head 61, 6); Vardy 6.
Reserve: Pereira, Thomas
Director: Dean Smith 6.
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Alisson 6; Alexander-Arnold 8.5, Konate 7, Van Dijk 6, Robertson 6; Henderson 7 (Milner 74, 6), Fabinho 6, Jones 7.5 (Carvalho 84); Salah 8 (Elliott 88), Gakpo 6, Diaz 7 (Jota 74, 6). Reserved: Konate.
Scorers: Jones 33, 36, Alexandre-Arnold 71.
Director: Jurgen Klopp 7.
Arbitrator: Craig Pawson 6. Attendance: 32,225.
Remaining fixtures – Leicester: Newcastle (a), West Ham (h).
Liverpool: Aston Villa (h), Southampton (a).
Here they couldn’t stay in the game once Liverpool went ahead. At the start, Smith’s side were energetic and determined while Liverpool were slow to find a rhythm.
Both Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy threatened to break Liverpool’s uncertain offside trap and the latter did so once to force Alisson to close the angle and save. Earlier, Jonny Evans, playing his first game since March, was close to landing a free-kick as he ran through the Liverpool penalty area.
Liverpool were not without a presence on the counter. Diaz hit the side netting while Alexander-Arnold delivered a fine through ball into Cody Gakpo’s path only for the Dutch striker to fail to apply the required first touch.
It wasn’t until they scored, however, that Liverpool started to look quite comfortable. The problem for Leicester is that they haven’t scored just once.
The first goal was magnificent. Leicester may wonder why a long kick from Alisson was controlled so easily by Diaz, but from there it was all about passing and vision as the ball passed through Jordan Henderson to Salah, then, surprisingly, to the far post where Jones arrived at the side foot. in the half volley.
Jones finished the move well but Salah’s role was vital as it was indeed minutes later when he played Jones through the middle for the second goal. Both times VAR looked for offside and both times Liverpool players were on the right side of the imaginary lines.
Leicester suddenly threatened to collapse. Somehow they managed to lose the ball from their own kick-off after the second goal and Gakpo would have scored an embarrassing third goal for Liverpool if his shot hadn’t been hit too close to the goalkeeper Daniel Iversen.
Jones (middle) was player of the match scoring his second and third goals of the season
The result means Dean Smith’s side will remain in the bottom three, two points from safety
And after Alexander-Arnold hit the third, the Foxes failed to recover one with disappointment visible among their players.
Jonny Evans (middle) made his first start for Leicester after being sidelined with injury since October
Mohamed Salah (right) was impressive throughout, kicking off Jones for his pair of goals
For Liverpool it is now their seventh rebound win and are now one point behind Man United
From there, there was only one relevant question left. How much? Liverpool’s goal difference is much better than United’s but lower than Newcastle’s, so they could have settled for a second-half slip. He did not come.
Salah curled a shot and had another stopped by Iversen. For once, the Egyptian’s performance was not about goals. And when he fired a short free-kick to his right in the 71st minute, Alexander-Arnold hit the ball so perfectly with his right instep that you could have heard the thud deep in the Filbert Street stand .
Nights like this make you realize just how big the disparity between the top of the Premier League and the bottom is. Once the first goal was scored, Liverpool simply weren’t ready to turn.
They’re used to steaming through games at this stage of the season, of course. It’s just that it’s usually with a league title in sight. This time it’s different. It was one of the best nights of their odd season, but the odds still stack against them.