London: 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.
Jurgen Klopp’s men had to celebrate the club’s first league triumph for 30 years in an empty stadium last season and their Premier League title defence was blown off course by a series of long-term injuries to key players.
But they avoided the financial hit of missing out on Europe’s premier club competition by finding their form in the final months of the season, winning eight of their last 10 games to finish third.
“Outstanding, best I could’ve dreamt of — we wanted this feeling, this game, this atmosphere,” Klopp told the BBC.
“Finishing the season in third is incredible, I can’t believe it — credit to the boys. I can’t believe how it worked out in the last few weeks, incredible.”
Tuchel’s side were on the brink of missing out on a top-four finish, trailing at Villa Park as goals from Bertrand Traore and Anwar El Ghazi were followed by Ben Chilwell’s strike for Chelsea.
But in the end they were saved by the Leicester result and they finished fourth, meaning they can now focus on next weekend’s Champions League final against Manchester City knowing they are in the competition next season.
Tuchel admitted Chelsea had been “lucky” to qualify.
“We had enough chances,” he said. “We did not score, conceded two cheap goals and it was a defeat in the end. We are lucky to escape today.
“We did not hit the target, the last touch was not precise enough. It was a very strong last half an hour and we had two big chances to score. We fought, tried everything but forgot to score.”
Leicester were left to dwell on another agonising near-miss, just a week after winning the FA Cup for the first time in their history.
The club, 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.
Leicester ended with more days in the Premier League’s top four than any other side this season.
The Foxes appeared to be on the brink of a stunning end to the season after Jamie Vardy’s second goal from the penalty spot put them 2-1 in front but a Kasper Schmeichel own goal and two late Gareth Bale strikes made it 4-2 for Spurs.
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 after coming on as a second-half substitute.
Everton were overwhelmed on an emotional occasion, with City presented with the Premier League trophy and fans returning to the stadium after 14 months away due to coronavirus restrictions.
Only 10,000 were permitted inside the Etihad but the atmosphere they generated inspired the team and few left before the post-match ceremonies, which included tributes to Aguero.
Harry Kane won his third Golden Boot award, finishing one ahead of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah on 23 goals after his strike in Tottenham’s win.