28 Dec 2015

Liverpool end Leicester's unbeaten run

1:07 pm on 28 December 2015

Leicester City remain on top of English football's Premier League despite their first away defeat of the season, as Arsenal copped a hiding at Southampton.

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Liverpool's Spanish defender Alberto Moreno (L) vies with Leicester's English striker Jamie Vardy

Liverpool's Spanish defender Alberto Moreno (L) vies with Leicester's English striker Jamie Vardy Photo: Photosport

Leicester went down 1-0 at Liverpool but Arsenal's shock 4-0 hiding at mid-table Southampton kept the Gunners from taking top spot.

So there's still two points in it, with third-placed Manchester City just another point behind and City to visit Leicester on Wednesday morning (NZT).

Just the Foxes' second loss from 18 games came after the surprise Christmas leaders struggled to contain an energetic Liverpool side who deservedly took the points at Anfield courtesy of substitute Christian Benteke's second-half effort.

Leicester topped the table at Christmas, a year after being rooted to the bottom, but they were not at their best against eighth-placed Liverpool, who had gone four matches without a win.

Benteke struck in the 63rd minute, steering in Roberto Firmino's pull-back.

It was the first time Leicester failed to score, with deadly duo Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who have scored 29 of Leicester's 37 league goals this season, well shackled.

Manager Claudio Ranieri said England striker Vardy had been playing with a fever while Algerian Mahrez had been tired. Both players were substituted in the second half.

Ranieri described Manchester City as "another big rock" in the way of Leicester's ambitions.

"We started to play too late. Liverpool pushed from the beginning and for this reason they deserved to win," Ranieri, whose side have 38 points from 18 games, three more than third-placed City, said.

"We tried to do our best but maybe in the first half we were too nervous to play our football.

"The second half was much better, but it is OK. Now we have to clean our mind and get ready for the next match."

Liverpool striker Christian Benteke

Liverpool striker Christian Benteke Photo: PHOTOSPORT

While Leicester were given a reality check, Liverpool ended a three-game Premier League winless streak during which they fell away in the hunt for a top-four finish.

Sunday's win, a healthy response to the 3-0 drubbing at Watford last time out, left them five points behind the top four and with plenty to play for.

"At half-time, we knew if we stayed concentrated we would get our chances because the players looked good and it was not too intensive for us in the first half," manager Juergen Klopp said.

His only concern was the injury to Divock Origi which hastened the arrival of Benteke.

"I hope it's not too serious, we will see," he said.

"I didn't know the word before I came to England, but 'hamstring' is the worst word of the year for me. It's always hamstring, hamstring, hamstring. That's the intensity of the game and the fixtures."

Gunners fail to fire at Saints

Southampton took a 19th-minute lead at home to Arsenal when Curacao defender Cuco Martina delivered a majestic strike from 25 metres, the ball starting well outside the right post and curving perfectly before nestling in the bottom corner of the net.

Shane Long then beat keeper Petr Cech from eight metres in the 55th minute. Captain Jose Fonte added the third goal with a towering close-range header from Ryan Bertrand's right-wing corner before Long made it 4-0 in stoppage time.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger acknowledged Southampton were the sharper team but he also blamed the defeat on bad luck, and a second goal that should have been disallowed by referee Jonathan Moss.

Long's second goal seemingly came after the Ireland striker fouled Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny outside the box before getting on the end of Sadio Mane's right-wing cross.

"We lost too many challenges today, they were sharper than us," manager Wenger told BT Sport.

"We were unlucky as well, their first shot on goal went into the bottom corner from the right back and the second goal came after a foul on Koscielny. I don't take the overall scoreline too much into consideration."

Wenger also described the game as "very, very, very physical".

Chelsea's Diego Costa

Chelsea's Diego Costa. Photo: Photosport

Meanwhile Diego Costa scored twice in a game for the first time this season as Chelsea drew 2-2 with Watford - but blotted his copybook with a booking that means he is banned for Tuesday's game at Manchester United.

Chelsea, who are sixth from bottom were reined in by an industrious Watford side who are seventh in the table.

The temperamental Costa, so often the London club's villain during a campaign where he has frequently looked completely off the pace, netted in the 32nd and 65th minutes to take his season's goal tally to five in the Premier League.

Check out our commentary from the game here

The Spain striker, however, blamed by some fans for the sacking of Jose Mourinho earlier this month and booed off the pitch against Sunderland last week, was cautioned for a rash late challenge and will miss champions Chelsea's trip to Old Trafford.

"He's out which means we have to solve that problem in 48 hours," new interim coach Guus Hiddink told reporters at Stamford Bridge. "It's a pity as he was going well after a good performance.

"He focused himself where he's good and when he does that he's very dangerous. (I told him) not to waste extra energy where he doesn't need to."

Mourinho, dismissed because of Chelsea's precarious position near the relegation zone, has been linked by media reports with a move to United where coach Louis van Gaal is under fire following a string of poor results.

The Chelsea crowd, vocal in support of Mourinho last week, were muted on Sunday.

United fans don Mourinho masks

There were few banners lauding the Portuguese, the chants for him dried up and Mourinho masks appeared in the stands at the Britannia Stadium rather than Stamford Bridge as Manchester United lost 2-0 to Stoke City.

All eyes were on United manager Van Gaal in the first game of a hectic holiday period as mid-table Stoke won 2-0 at the Britannia Stadium.

Goals from forwards Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic left United in sixth place as they lost four consecutive matches in all competitions in a single season for the first time since 1961.

Van Gaal left out captain Wayne Rooney for tactical reasons and by the time the England striker was introduced as a second-half substitute, United were already in deep trouble.

The frosty Dutchman hinted later his days in the Old Trafford hot seat might be numbered and said his players had "not dared to play" in the first half.

"The club doesn't have to fire or sack me, sometimes I do it by myself," he told reporters.

Asked whether he would be in charge of United's home match with Chelsea on Monday, he said: "We will have to wait and see".

Tight at the top approaching halfway mark

Leicester have 38 points from 18 matches with Arsenal on 36, Manchester City 35 and Tottenham 32.

Manchester City, in third place, crushed lowly Sunderland 4-1 but suffered a blow when captain Vincent Kompany limped off with a calf injury, having come on as a substitute following an eight-match absence.

Tottenham Hotspur consolidated fourth spot as Harry Kane netted twice in a 3-0 home victory over Norwich City to take his league tally for the calendar year to 27, a club record.

Crystal Palace drew 0-0 at Bournemouth, moving above Manchester United into fifth spot.

Bottom club Aston Villa drew 1-1 at home to West Ham United thanks to Jordan Ayew's penalty, leaving manager Remi Garde still awaiting a first win since taking over from Tim Sherwood.

Managerless Swansea City won for the first time since October, Ki Sung-yeung scoring the only goal against visiting West Bromwich Albion.

Newcastle dropped into the bottom three, behind Norwich on goal difference, after losing 1-0 to Everton following a last-gasp Tom Cleverley winner.

- Reuters

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