Adam Lallana, James Milner and Roberto Firmino scored as Liverpool comfortably beat Capital One Cup final victors Manchester City 3-0 at Anfield to severely dent the visitors’ title ambitions.
A re-run of their Wembley encounter three days on produced a completely different game and result, with goals inside the first hour from Adam Lallana, James Milner and Roberto Firmino earning the home side their handsome win.
It inflicted City’s third successive Premier League defeat – a run they had not experienced for seven years – and more significantly left them trailing leaders Leicester by 10 points, albeit with a match in hand.
Equally as worrying for Manuel Pellegrini as he enters his final three months in charge, it left fourth-placed City looking over their shoulder with Manchester United and West Ham now breathing down their necks.
The Chilean manager may have already won the League Cup, his third trophy in three years, but it would tarnish his legacy if he were to leave incoming manager Pep Guardiola without Champions League football
City, without injured captain Yaya Toure and with 19-goal striker Sergio Aguero making little impact, were a pale imitation of the side which has so often lit up the Premier League.
For Liverpool, however, this was a performance which highlighted all of their characteristic inconsistency as once they got into their stride they cut through City with apparent ease.
With Daniel Sturridge rested, Divock Origi was preferred to £32.5million striker Christian Benteke. Origi was making his first league start since being injured in the Boxing Day win over Leicester and gave Liverpool’s attack mobility which allowed them to press City high up the field.
Jon Flanagan, on his first league start since May 2014, clattered into the returning former Anfield favourite Raheem Sterling in the first 30 seconds to set the tone for their own personal battle which the Liverpool full-back won comfortably, producing one brilliantly-timed recovery tackle to deny his former team-mate the chance to shoot.
The job the defender did on the England winger, on his first return to Anfield since his £49million summer move, was good enough for Sterling to be replaced by Wilfried Bony at half-time.
If Flanagan had kept Sterling in check, the same could be said of both sides as for 34 minutes they cancelled each other out.
It was only a slack piece of absent-minded defending from Nicolas Otamendi, City’s £32million centre-back, which allowed Liverpool to take the lead.
Lallana picked up the ball midway in the visitors’ half but with the Argentina international standing off he advanced, albeit slowly, and with no challenge coming in he opted to shoot.
The ball almost seemed to travel in slow motion but it was well-placed enough to beat Joe Hart, restored at the expense of City’s Wembley hero Willy Caballero, inside his left-hand post for Lallana’s third goal in his last four league games.
Such was the low-key manner of the goal it took a moment for the realisation to sink in around Anfield, but there was no such confusion around the second which sliced City apart just before the break.
Lallana started the move with a backheel to Firmino who squared for Milner to charge into the penalty area and ram past Hart.
England midfielder Milner, who chested Aguero’s header off the line from City’s only attempt on target, has yet to be on the losing side in the Premier League matches in which he has scored and confirmation that record would continue was secured as early as the 58th minute.
Again Lallana played a central part, running at the defence before teeing up Firmino for his seventh goal of the season.
The remaining chances which were created all fell to Liverpool with Milner twice going close against his former club.
City, who for a side of their quality have incredibly won just once in 25 league visits to Anfield, barely put up a fight and that will be a concern for Pellegrini as the title race enters its final 10 matches.