LONDON: In the top four since September, Leicester City’s Champions League hopes are no longer so certain.
A 4-1 capitulation at relegation-threatened Bournemouth on Sunday summed up Leicester’s form since the Premier League returned from its three-month coronavirus-enforced shutdown.
“I would say a big apology to the supporters because that was unacceptable for a Leicester team,” Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said. “You cannot do that and I have never been anywhere near that since Ive been here, it was a huge disappointment. We lacked the spirit and attitude.”
Leicester have won only once in the six league games since the restart, collecting six points and slipping from third to fourth.
They could be down to fifth if Manchester United win their game in hand.
Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, though, are realistically in a scrap for a Europa League place. Tottenham have the edge after beating Arsenal 2-1 in the north London derby to leapfrog their rivals into eighth place. But Sheffield United, in their first season back in the league, are ahead of them in seventh place.
Despite winning the league at 5,000-1 odds in 2016, Leicester are a much-changed side and overachieving in Rodgers’ first full season in charge. But throwing away the third-place cushion would make not qualifying for the Champions League hard to accept.
Leicester scored after 23 minutes as Jamie Vardy bagged his 23rd league goal of the season to extend his lead in the Golden Boot race.
But Bournemouth were handed a lifeline when Leicester imploded during two minutes of mayhem.
In the 66th minute, Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel booted a goal-kick into Wilfred Ndidi’s back, forcing his team-mate to trip Callum Wilson.
Junior Stanislas stepped up to score the resulting penalty and 101 seconds later Dominic Solanke’s weak shot trickled under Schmeichel’s woeful attempt to save.
Leicester defender Caglar Soyuncu sent off for kicking Wilson as he attempted to retrieve the ball from the net after Solanke’s goal.
Bournemouth’s luck was in and Stanislas’s strike went in off Leicester’s Jonny Evans for an 83rd minute own goal before Solanke’s composed finish made it four in the 87th minute.
Bournemouth’s first win in 10 games, a drought stretching back to February 1, moved them to within three points of 17th placed Watford, with three games left for all the teams in the relegation fight.
SPURS LEAVE IT LATE TO BEAT ARSENAL
It was the first Premier League north London derby at Tottenham’s new stadium but with no fans allowed inside due to the coronavirus restrictions.
Alexandre Lacazette bent Arsenal’s opener into the top corner in the 16th minute. But Sead Kolainac’s misplaced pass allowed Jose Mourinho’s men to level inside three minutes, with Son Heung-min taking the ball out to a tight angle but still managing to chip goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
Son, who was dropped from the starting lineup for the 0-0 draw at Bournemouth on Thursday, provided the corner that Toby Alderweireld sent past Martinez in the 81st with a glancing header.
“We are happy because we made the fans happy, we are happy because we are still in the fight to win a Europa League position,” Mourinho said. “To be honest, Mikel [Arteta] found a way for them to play, to be stable and to improve. We felt that we should adapt slightly to them and we did it very well.”
Arsenal could miss out on Europe entirely and boss Arteta said: “We give them a goal again and we concede a set-piece and at this level, you cannot do it.”
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2020