London (AFP) – Liverpool and Chelsea seized the final two Champions League places in a dramatic end to the Premier League season on Sunday, leaving Leicester heartbroken for the second consecutive campaign.
With Manchester City already guaranteed a third title in four years and Manchester United certain to finish second, the focus was on the battle for the final two places in the top four.
Heading into the 38th and last round of fixtures, just one point separated Chelsea in third place from Leicester in fifth.
Two Sadio Mane goals gave Liverpool a 2-0 win at home to Crystal Palace while Thomas Tuchel’s side were indebted to a late Leicester collapse against Tottenham at the King Power Stadium.
Chelsea lost 2-1 at Aston Villa but were saved by the 4-2 defeat for Brendan Rodgers’ FA Cup winners.
Jamie Vardy ramped up the pressure on deposed champions Liverpool and Chelsea early on a see-saw afternoon, putting Leicester ahead from the penalty spot.
That meant, as it stood, Liverpool, playing in front of the biggest crowd at Anfield since they became English champions least season, dropped out of the Champions League qualification places.
But after an uncertain start, Mane calmed nerves in the 36th minute and minutes later Harry Kane, possibly playing his final game for Spurs, levelled for the visitors at the King Power.
Chelsea were rocked when Bertrand Traore fired Villa ahead just before the break when he met Matt Targett’s corner and his shot looped over Edouard Mendy and in off the bar.
Vardy then scored again from the penalty spot shortly after half time and minutes later Villa doubled their lead when Anwar El Ghazi beat substitute goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga from the penalty spot.
At that stage it looked as though Chelsea, playing Manchester City in next week’s Champions League final, would miss out on the top four.
– Leicester pain –
They pulled a goal back but the key action took place at the King Power, where a Kasper Schmeichel own goal and two late Gareth Bale strikes turned the game around.
Liverpool, hit by a string of injuries and dogged by inconsistent form earlier this season, have been impressive down the home stretch, winning eight out of their last 10 games to seal their spot in Europe’s premier club competition.
Chelsea, last week’s beaten FA Cup finalists, will be hugely relieved that Tottenham did them a favour, with their season threatening to unravel in the final weeks.
They can now face Manchester City in the Champions League final without the added pressure of needing to win to qualify for next season’s competition.
Leicester, forced to settle for a Europa League spot, also missed out on the top four on the final day of last season when they were beaten by Manchester United.
West Ham also secured a Europa League spot by beating Southampton 3-0 while Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United had already been relegated.
Sergio Aguero scored two goals on his final appearance for Manchester City in their 5-0 romp against Everton.
The Argentine, City’s all-time record goalscorer, returned to the squad for his farewell and came on as a second-half substitute.
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