Diogo Jota’s double kept Liverpool’s Premier League title hopes alive with a 2-0 win over Leicester, while Arsenal’s 1-0 victory at Wolves gave the Gunners the advantage in the race for the top four.
Liverpool still trail Manchester City at the top of the table by nine points, but have a game in hand on the champions to come and were impressive in securing a fifth consecutive win.
With Mohamed Salah left on the bench from the start after his exertions at the Africa Cup of Nations and Sadio Mane still celebrating his success with Senegal, Jota took centre stage to continue his excellent season.
The Portuguese produced two predatory finishes as he smashed home a loose ball from close range to open the scoring in the first half before firing into the far corner three minutes from time to take his tally for the campaign to 17 goals.
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers returned to Anfield under pressure to turn around the Foxes’ floundering season after an embarrassing 4-1 defeat to Championship side Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup on Sunday.
Rodgers made a statement with his team selection with a number of first-team regulars left out, including Youri Tielemans, who had captained Leicester at the weekend.
In the absence of Salah and Mane, Jurgen Klopp handed a first Liverpool start to January signing Luis Diaz.
Salah’s missed penalty in a 1-0 defeat to a depleted Leicester on December 28 played a major part in allowing City to pull clear at the top of the table as Liverpool took two points from three games over the festive period.
Diaz’s direct running caught the eye, but the Reds were struggling for the breakthrough until Leicester’s weakness from set pieces was exposed for the opener.
Virgil Van Dijk shrugged off the attention of Wilfried Ndidi and after his header was parried by Kasper Schmeichel, Jota was in the right place to smash home.
Klopp introduced Salah to a huge reception on the hour mark and the Egyptian should have made the points safe when he raced clean through on goal only to be denied by Schmeichel spreading himself to block.
Salah then hit the bar with a stunning strike from a narrow angle before Diaz stung the palms of Schmeichel again.
The Dane even got a hand to Jota’s powerful effort, but could not keep it out as Liverpool’s dominance finally told with a second goal.
Arsenal moved into pole position to claim the fourth place in next season’s Champions League as they closed to within a point of fourth-placed West Ham with two games in hand to come.
The Gunners had fortune on their side in a game dominated by controversial calls.
Referee Michael Oliver saw no infringement when Alexandre Lacazette’s boot collided with Wolves goalkeeper Jose Sa and Gabriel gratefully tapped into an unguarded net.
For the fourth time in six games Arsenal ended with 10 men as Gabriel Martinelli was shown two yellow cards at the same time by Oliver for trying to prevent Wolves taking a throw in then bundling over Chiquinho.
Granit Xhaka’s own goal from the resulting free-kick was ruled out for offside against Raul Jimenez and Wolves failed to make the extra man count in the final 20 minutes to deal a blow to their own ambitions of a top-four finish. – AFP.