‘Emotions swing for Liverpool & Chelsea – but familiar pain for Leicester’

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May 25, 2021
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    It was a relatively comfortable final-day journey into the Champions League for Liverpool, while Leicester City and Chelsea were in and out in a surreal version of football hokey-cokey before their fate was resolved.

    It summed up the chaotic and unpredictable nature of this Premier League season.

    Liverpool barely needed to get out of second gear at Anfield to secure the victory they required against Crystal Palace for third place and a spot in Europe's elite competition – something that looked beyond them a month ago.

    But at King Power Stadium and Villa Park, nerves were frayed and emotions swung violently between despair and elation.

    And when it was all done, Liverpool can look back on a qualified success from a season that contained so much wreckage and Chelsea can thank the most unlikely of allies in Tottenham for winning at Leicester City to ensure they did not suffer from their own loss at Aston Villa.

    For Leicester, there was only more pain of faltering at the final hurdle once again.

    It meant the same top four as last season, albeit with Manchester City as champions this time.

    Yes, the same top four who tried to elevate themselves above the Champions League with their involvement in the "blink and you'll miss it" European Super League just a few weeks ago.

    The title race was over months ago, Manchester City a class apart, and with Manchester United secure in second it was left to Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester to fight for two places.

    • Final farewells and top four decided
    • Mane double helps Liverpool finish third
    • Chelsea secure top-four despite loss at Villa
    • Leicester miss out on Champions League after loss to Spurs
    • Relive the final day of the Premier League as it happened

    Liverpool salvage a season of turmoil

    At Anfield, there was an air of muted celebration – remember this is still a season when Liverpool did not come near a trophy – with a sense that this was pretty much the best that manager Jurgen Klopp and his players could do given the circumstances they had to deal with.

    Make no mistake, any side would struggle to cope with the nature and volume of injuries Liverpool suffered this season.

    Virgil van Dijk's season-ending knee injury at Everton started the misery in September, fellow centre-backs Joe Gomez and Joel Matip soon followed, and there were a catalogue of absences involving such key figures as captain Jordan Henderson and Diogo Jota – who had made a spectacular start.

    Thiago Alcantara, signed as a world-class playmaker, also suffered a knee injury at Everton and struggled to dictate tempo as Klopp will have hoped before hitting his stride as the conclusion of the season drew near.

    Injuries or not, there can be no excuse for the collapse in home form after Burnley ended a 68-game unbeaten home league run in January, defeats following against Brighton, Manchester City, Everton, Chelsea and Fulham.

    No team in those red shirts should suffer that run of defeats at what should be their Anfield fortress.

    It is to the huge credit of Klopp and his team that they put together a haul of 29 points after they lost at home to Everton for the first time since 1999 on 20 February. That end-of-season form will give them real optimism for next term.

    Klopp will no doubt strengthen in the summer but the biggest positives will arguably be the return of the likes of Van Dijk, Gomez, Matip and Henderson, on the bench against Palace.

    Thiago will have a season of experience in the Premier League behind him, Jota will develop further and the usually prolific Sadio Mane, who scored the two goals that sent Liverpool into the Champions League, is unlikely to struggle to hit the target in such frustrating fashion next term.

    Mohamed Salah, as he always is, will be a world-class guarantee of goals.

    Liverpool will look to replace Georginio Wijnaldum, who was given a guard of honour and a presentation after his final appearance – but the good news for Klopp is if everyone is in good health at the start of next season he already has a title-challenging squad at his disposal.

    Chelsea ease pressure before Porto

    ChelseaChelsea will face Man City on Saturday, 29 May in the Champions League final

    Chelsea found themselves facing a serious pressure situation in Saturday's Champions League final against Manchester City in Porto until Spurs, the old rivals, raced to the rescue with a dramatic turnaround that left Leicester so disappointed.

    As Chelsea spent part of the final day in fifth, it looked like they would need to overcome the hugely formidable obstacle of Manchester City to secure Champions League football – always owner Roman Abramovich's minimum requirement.

    Manager Thomas Tuchel has done a top-class job since succeeding Frank Lampard in January but there have been stumbles recently in losing at home to Arsenal, the FA Cup final to Leicester City and again to Villa in this finale.

    In between, they managed to produce a defining win against their FA Cup final conquerors and Champions League final opponents when the heat was on.

    Fortunately for Tuchel and his players, the Sunday switchback at the King Power Stadium means Chelsea can travel to Portugal with Champions League football assured for next season. It will be a source of relief.

    Tuchel can still claim the greatest glory in Porto and can plot for the summer knowing Chelsea will be in the Champions League, which is sure to be a key factor in attracting more quality to Stamford Bridge – although England captain Harry Kane may well remain out of reach.

    Chelsea lived on their nerves and needed help from an unfamiliar source, but all's well that ends well in the Premier League context and once Champions League final business is concluded in Portugal the German manager will make a stronger imprint on a talented squad.

    Leicester suffer agony again

    Leicester CityLeicester have won one of their last five games, losing three and drawing one

    Leicester City have scaled the heights of joy then plumbed the depths of despair in the space of eight days.

    The Foxes won the FA Cup for the first time in their history with victory over Chelsea at Wembley but once again, as they did when they lost to Manchester United last season, a home defeat on the final day of the season has cost them Champions League football.

    It is a huge blow for a fine team and manager who spent 164 consecutive days in the top four before falling out on Wednesday.

    Leicester are now the central puzzle in a quirky question that applies to modern football.

    Is their season a let-down because, after being in the race for so long, they missed out on the Champions League even though they won a trophy?

    Which is more important and of more value – a trophy or top four?

    Surely Leicester City's season has to be judged as a success because of that historic FA Cup win. It is a day their fans will remember forever and will share with grandchildren. Would reaching the Champions League be discussed in the same terms in years to come?

    It is time for perspective.

    One unwelcome spin-off (and an ironic one at that) may be that Spurs could be emboldened to make one more try to tempt Rodgers away from the King Power, having inflicted the defeat that robbed him and his team of Champions League football.

    Rodgers has expressed no desire to leave. And given his work at the club and the manner in which Leicester City is run, it would still be a major surprise if he was persuaded to change his mind.

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