Liverpool wins, Chelsea held as EPL teeters amid virus surge

If the Premier League is to take an enforced break amid another surge in coronavirus cases, Trent Alexander-Arnold gave it quite a send-off.

The Liverpool full back has the perhaps the most dangerous right foot in English soccer and he used it to devastating effect with a late long-range strike to seal a come-from-behind 3-1 win over Newcastle on Thursday.

“A stunner. Unbelievable,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said. “The boy’s shooting technique is on a different level.”

The victory meant Liverpool stayed on the shoulder of league leader Manchester City in what is shaping up to be an exciting title race. Chelsea couldn’t keep pace, though.

A 1-1 draw at home to injury-hit Everton was Chelsea’s latest disappointing result in the league and left the European champions four points behind City.

On current form, the title race is looking like a two-team race, even if it could soon be halted as the league approaches a busy program of festive fixtures.

The growing number of infections among Premier League squads as the omicron variant spreads is being reflected in the number of matches being postponed, almost on a daily basis. Just before kickoff in Thursday’s games, the league announced half of the weekend fixtures have been called off because of coronavirus outbreaks in many teams.

There have now been nine postponements in a week.

Thursday’s games went ahead, though both Liverpool and Chelsea each had three players unavailable because of positive cases. Virgil van Dijk and Fabinho were among them for Liverpool, while Chelsea was forced to do without strikers Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner.

Liverpool coped better despite conceding a seventh-minute goal to one of its former players, Jonjo Shelvey.

The hosts replied in the first half through Diogo Jota — somewhat controversially while Newcastle midfielder Isaac Hayden was down with an apparent head injury — and Mohamed Salah’s league-high 15th goal of the season.

Alexander-Arnold capped the comeback with his ferocious shot from 25 meters that flew high into the net, just missing referee Mike Dean as he skipped to one side to avoid the ball hitting him.

CHELSEA STRUGGLES

Everton was missing as many as 12 players because of injury and illness, forcing manager Rafa Benitez to start a makeshift lineup containing three youngsters. Two of them combined for the 77th-minute equalizer.

Jarrad Branthwaite, a 19-year-old defender who has had loan spells at Carlisle and Blackburn in recent seasons, poked in at the far post from a free kick from 20-year-old winger Anthony Gordon.

That canceled out a goal scored seven minutes earlier by Mason Mount, who has now netted in four straight league games.

Chelsea’s slump — the team has won just two of its last five league games — has coincided with the absence of star midfielder N’Golo Kante because of injury, and he was only fit enough to take his place on the bench as an unused substitute.

Kante is likely to make his return when Chelsea visits Wolverhampton on Sunday.

Provided, of course, the league hasn’t been shut down by then.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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