Liverpool move up to second

Benitez sacked as Everton manager; Harrison hat-trick fires Leeds

LIVERPOOL: Liverpool kept their slim hopes of reeling in Manchester City at the top of the Premier League alive by seeing off Brentford 3-0 at Anfield to move up to second in the table yesterday. Fabinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Takumi Minamino scored the goals as the Reds coped without the absence of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane at the Africa Cup of Nations. Victory lifts Jurgen Klopp’s men to within 11 points of the runaway leaders, but they also have a game in hand on City.

Liverpool failed to take advantage of an extra man for over an hour as Thursday’s League semi-final, first leg against Arsenal ended 0-0, sparking fears of how they will cope for the rest of the month without two of their main sources of goals. But a Brentford side that have not won a league game away from home since early October never threatened to cause an upset. Klopp made just two changes from the Arsenal stalemate as Curtis Jones and Oxlade-Chamberlain were recalled to add extra creativity and dynamism to the midfield.

He was rewarded with a bright start as Diogo Jota headed over, Trent Alexander-Arnold flashed a shot just off target and Alvaro Fernandez made a brilliant save to deny Virgil van Dijk. However, the crowd were growing restless until Brentford allowed Alexander-Arnold’s corner to bounce inside the area and Fabinho headed in at the back post. The Bees went toe-to-toe with Liverpool in a pulsating 3-3 draw when the sides last met in September.

But the visitors only created one big chance to get back in the game when Bryan Mbuemo turned Joel Matip and shot inches wide. Jota hit the post and then should have scored when firing too close to Fernandez in a one-on-one. There was no doubt over the outcome, though, once Oxlade-Chamberlain’s diving header turned Andy Robertson’s perfect cross into the bottom corner. Brentford were architects of their own downfall for the third goal as Fernandez’s pass out from the back was seized upon by Roberto Firmino and he teed up Minamino to slot home from close range.

The home fans could relax for the final 15 minutes and pointedly took the chance to chant the name of former manager Rafael Benitez, who was sacked by rivals Everton yesterday. The Toffees are in danger of falling into a relegation battle after one win in 13 league games. Brentford, by contrast, still enjoy a 10-point cushion over the bottom three in their first season in the top-flight for 74 years but remain in 14th.

Leeds beat West Ham

Meanwhile, Jack Harrison hit a hat-trick as Leeds boosted their bid for Premier League survival with a 3-2 win against West Ham yesterday. Harrison put Leeds ahead at the London Stadium and netted again after Jarrod Bowen’s equalizer. When Pablo Fornals hauled West Ham level in the second half, Harrison had an instant response as the midfielder completed his treble. Marcelo Bielsa’s side made it two successive league victories to climb nine points clear of the relegation zone.

It was sweet revenge for Leeds, who were knocked out of the FA Cup in the third round at West Ham just a week ago. West Ham had won three consecutive league games and four in all competitions, but their bid to finish in the top four suffered a major setback thanks to Harrison. David Moyes’ team remain fourth, however they are now just two points ahead of Arsenal, who have two games in hand, while Tottenham are four points back with four games extra to play.

Leeds had scored just eight goals in nine away league fixtures this season, but Bielsa’s men made a flying start and took the lead in the 10th minute. Adam Forshaw found Harrison in the West Ham area and he drilled a fine finish that gave Lukasz Fabianski no chance. Daniel James fired just over from 25 yards as Leeds looked to build on Harrison’s second league goal this term.

Leeds’ ongoing injury crisis was underscored by the presence of 15-year-old Archie Gray on the bench. They suffered yet more fitness misery when Forshaw and Junior Firpo were both forced off with what looked like hamstring problems midway through the half. Craig Dawson should have taken advantage of Leeds’ latest enforced reshuffle, but the West Ham defender squandered a golden opportunity, heading a corner wide from close-range.

Leeds’ weakness at set-pieces was exposed in the 34th minute as Bowen headed West Ham’s equaliser from another corner. But Harrison had the perfect response three minutes later. Luke Ayling headed the ball into Harrison’s path and he bundled home from close-range. West Ham equalized in the 52nd minute as Michail Antonio found Fornals, who got behind Ayling and guided a clinical finish past Illan Meslier.

Benitez sacked

In another development, Rafael Benitez was sacked as Everton manager yesterday after just 200 days in charge of the struggling Premier League club. Benitez was an unpopular appointment in June last year after his long spell with Everton’s Merseyside rivals Liverpool. The Spaniard paid the price for a dismal run of nine defeats in Everton’s last 13 league matches, culminating in a 2-1 loss at lowly Norwich on Saturday.

“Everton Football Club can confirm the departure of Rafael Benitez as first-team manager,” a club statement said. “Benitez, who joined Everton in June 2021, has left the club with immediate effect. “An update on a permanent replacement will be made in due course.” Former Everton forward Wayne Rooney, currently impressing as manager of second tier Derby, is the bookmakers’ favorite to replace Benitez. — AFP

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