- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) - Manchester United’s return to the Champions League was sealed by a defeat for Liverpool in Steven Gerrard’s final game at Anfield, while the fight to avoid relegation from the English Premier League was reduced to three teams with one round remaining.

Liverpool lost 3-1 to Crystal Palace on an emotionally charged evening for Gerrard, to end its slim hopes of finishing in the top four. Instead, United will be the league’s fourth representative in Europe’s top competition next season alongside Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal.

Aston Villa and Leicester secured their top-flight status for another season, leaving Hull, Newcastle and Sunderland in a three-way scrap to stay up.

Hull is favorite to join Queens Park Rangers and Burnley in going down after losing 2-0 at Tottenham to stay third from bottom. Newcastle remained two points above Hull after a 2-1 loss at QPR, and Sunderland is a point further ahead following its 0-0 draw with Leicester.

Hull needs to win its last match, at home to Man United, to stand a chance of staying up.

Also, Sadio Mane scored the fastest hat trick in Premier League history, netting three times in 2 minutes, 56 seconds for Southampton in a 6-1 win over Villa. Everton beat West Ham 2-1, and Stoke drew 0-0 with Burnley.

Gerrard played 90 minutes in his 354th and final appearance at Anfield, but couldn’t conjure up one last moment of brilliance at a stadium he has illuminated so many times down the years.

He thanked Liverpool’s fans for their support in an emotional speech, by which time his club had failed in its bid to qualify for the Champions League for a second straight season.

After Adam Lallana gave Liverpool a 26th-minute lead, Jason Puncheon equalized from a free kick in the 43rd, and Wilfried Zaha and Glenn Murray scored second-half goals for Palace.

Liverpool is in fifth place and six points behind United ahead of its final match of the season at Stoke, which will mark Gerrard’s last appearance for the Reds.

With the title clinched by Chelsea and the top four wrapped up, much of the focus on the final day will be on the relegation battle.

Two months ago, Leicester looked like a certainty to go down after spending most of the season in last place.

However, a point at Sunderland added to Leicester’s run of six wins from its previous seven games and Nigel Pearson’s team is safe. Half of Leicester’s 38 points have come in the last eight rounds.

Hull’s loss ensured Villa will be in the league for another year, although it was a bittersweet day for Tim Sherwood’s side after its heavy loss at St. Mary’s.

Mane’s treble put Southampton 3-0 up by the 16th minute and Shane Long added two more goals before Christian Benteke scored for Villa. Graziano Pelle made it 6-1 with a volley.

Goals by Nacer Chadli and Danny Rose consigned Hull to a third straight loss that plunged the team closer to a return to the second tier after two years in the Premier League.

Newcastle is still in danger, though, after an eighth defeat in nine games. Emmanuel Riviere put Newcastle ahead before Matt Phillips and Leroy Fer scored for QPR.


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