Liverpool made their move in the title race as they returned to the top of the Barclays Premier League for the first time since Christmas with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Tottenham.
The last four teams who occupied that position on 25 December went on to win the title but, after back-to-back defeats immediately dropped them to fifth by the turn of the year, questions were asked about the Reds’ credentials.
In fact, since losing to Chelsea on 29 December, Liverpool are unbeaten and have taken 35 out of a possible 39 points, which has elevated them to top spot with six games to go and answered their critics in stunning style.
Liverpool’s shirts said ‘Seeing is Believing’, promoting sponsors Standard Chartered’s global charitable initiative, and the prospect of a first title for 24 years is now closer than a speck on the horizon it has been for a couple of decades. However, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is not yet ready to label his side as favourites.
“It’s the dream for our supporters,” he said. “They want to win the title but my next job is to analyse West Ham (Liverpool’s next opponents) tomorrow.”
Speaking about their latest demolition, which now sees Liverpool having scored 88 league goals, he added: “I enjoy watching them every day and today to take into the pressure situation and perform like did from first whistle was an immense performance.”
Anfield, where the Reds have dropped just five points all season, certainly believes a first title is on the way after almost a quarter of a century of waiting, and Chelsea and Manchester City will not relish going there in the next month.
Tottenham, despite being sixth and supposedly still fighting for the top four, hardly posed a challenge. Liverpool have now scored nine unanswered goals against them this season – beating their previous best in a single campaign from 1914-15.
As has been so often the case this season, especially at home, Liverpool’s start was explosive. Just 100 seconds had elapsed from kick-off when they went ahead with a slick move which ended with Younes Kaboul putting into his own net.
Philippe Coutinho sprayed the ball out to Raheem Sterling, back in the starting line-up for the first time in three matches, and overlapping full-back Glen Johnson drilled in a cross from which, had Kaboul not done the honours, Daniel Sturridge would have cleaned up from close range.
Anfield, already at a heightened state of fervour, exploded in a wave of noise which continued to reverberate around the ground as Liverpool regularly attacked with vigour.
Luis Suarez, after two crosses from either flanks which first saw the ball sail marginally over the head of the waiting Sturridge and then drilled narrowly wide by Coutinho’s volley, whipped a 25-yard free-kick over before producing a sublime strike for his 29th of the season.
Michael Dawson, only just on the pitch as a replacement for the injured Jan Vertonghen, tried to turn Steven Gerrard’s clearance into the patch of fellow centre-back Kaboul only for Suarez to nip in, skip past the defender and drill an angled shot across Hugo Lloris and inside the far post – into the only spot the goalkeeper could be beaten.
In doing so, he eclipsed Robbie Fowler’s record of goals in a Premier League season with the promise of plenty more to come before the end of the campaign.
Tottenham saw so little of the ball their chances were sporadic at best, and, when Christian Eriksen did find space in the area, Martin Skrtel threw his body in the way and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s follow-up header was saved by Simon Mignolet.
Free-kicks came and went as Sturridge, after a 50-yard run ended with Kaboul being booked, curled over and Suarez, still on set-piece duty despite Gerrard’s effort in the midweek win over Sunderland, whipped a vicious effort just wide.
The Uruguayan’s best chance of doubling his tally, however, came just moments before. Kaboul’s day continued its downward spiral when he was robbed by Sterling, who crossed to the back post, where Suarez’s header was clawed onto the crossbar by Lloris and hooked clear by Nabil Bentaleb.
Any chance Spurs had of rescuing the situation had to come from the next goal, but they were not given the remotest chance as, after Jordan Henderson ballooned over a cut-back from Sterling – who himself had only Lloris to beat – Coutinho made the result safe.
Young left-back Jon Flanagan’s dummy of England international Aaron Lennon typified the confidence flowing through the side but, when he offloaded to Coutinho in midfield, there was still plenty to do. Despite the Brazilian playmaker advancing, Spurs saw fit to stand off and Coutinho made them pay with a low shot from 25 yards which easily beat Lloris for just his fourth goal of the season.
The large travelling support were suitably disgruntled, chanting “Where is our manager?” at Tim Sherwood. He was actually sitting in the directors’ box throughout – two rows behind chairman Daniel Levy, who this week reportedly held talks with Holland coach Louis van Gaal.