We may have only reached the halfway stage of the campaign but Liverpool have started to stretch clear at the top of the table and Manchester City’s defeat to Leicester sees them seven points clear. Christmas has been more than kind to Jurgen Klopp.
Liverpool were never anything other than dominant against Newcastle United. The final score of 4-0, secured through goals from Dejan Lovren, Mohamed Salah, Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho, could have been six and the made the test as straightforward as many expected it to be.
But Manchester City’s third defeat in four games has now put them firmly in the driving seat and Klopp can have no cause for argument when people refer to his team as the title favourites. Yes, they have games against Arsenal and City on the horizon, but they are playing with such flair and confidence that it is difficult to see them stuttering.
There was a time when a clash between these sides guaranteed a frenzy of attacking football but those memories belong to a different generation; Trent Alexander-Arnold, for instance, hadn’t been born when Liverpool and Newcastle produced the Premier League’s defining game in April 1996.
To see Benitez’s line-up, with Newcastle’s main threat Salomon Rondon on the bench, it was immediately clear that the narrative of this latest meeting was only going to flow in one direction, with the visitors’ intent on making this an afternoon of frustration.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Lovren, Robertson (Clyne 82); Henderson, Wijnaldum 7 (Fabinho 62); Shaqiri, Firmino (Sturridge 69), Mane; Salah
Subs not used: Mignolet, Keita, Lallana, Origi
Goals: Lovren 11, Salah 47 (pen), Shaqiri 79, Fabinho 85
Manager: Jurgen Klopp
NEWCASTLE (4-4-2): Dubravka; Yedlin, Fernandez, Lascelles, Dummett; Hayden, Diame, Kenedy (Longstaff 73), Ritchie (Murphy 81); Joselu, Muto
Subs not used: Woodman, Schar, Rondon, Perez, Manquillo
Manager: Rafa Benitez
Referee: G Scott
That said, Newcastle had the first chance of the game. In the seventh minute, Mo Diame ushered Matt Ritchie forward and his cross dipped over Virgil van Dijk’s to Joselu, Rondon’s replacement, but the Spaniard lacked conviction and head over. It was to be as good as it got for Benitez.
Liverpool were been stung into action and a flurry of raids in response led to half chances for Xherdan Shaqiri and Salah before they took the lead; Shaqiri’s short corner led Andrew Robertson to hoist a cross into the area, which Jamaal Lascelles failed to adequately clear.
Still there was much to be done but the ball dropped invitingly to Lovren and he did the rest, thrashing a volley into the roof of the net. Lovren could never be accused of being shy and retiring so it was appropriate his first goal of the campaign should be a howitzer.
You felt there and then that Lovren’s goal would be enough and the fact Alisson Becker never had a meaningful save to make before the interval confirmed how territorially dominant Liverpool were; what they lacked, though, was a cutting edge to wrap things up.
Shaqiri scored the third, tapping in the outstanding Alexander-Arnold’s cross after he had been set free by Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson, before Fabinho, on as a substitute, completed the rout with a header from Shaqiri’s corner.
But the biggest goal of all was the one Ricardo Perreira had scored at the KingPower Stadium and the way it was greeted at Anfield showed its importance. When the score was read out shortly after the final whistle, there was another roar and another song from yesteryear.
‘Liverpool, Liverpool! Top of the League!’ they bellowed. Given what has happened over the last five days, they could be there for some time to come.