Daniel Sturridge was one of six different goalscorers as Liverpool made the most of some awful Aston Villa defending to win 6-0 at Villa Park.
Sturridge, starting his first Premier League game since October, served yet another frustrating reminder of his ability when fit, escaping the attention of two Villa defenders to head in Philippe Coutinho’s cross in the 16th minute.
James Milner score a free-kick intended as a cross evade everyone, including goalkeeper Mark Bunn, to earn the Reds a 2-0 lead at the break, but few could have predicted the extent to which Villa collapsed in the second half.
Emre Can, Divock Origi, Nathaniel Clyne and Kolo Toure did the damage as Liverpool climbed to eighth, only three points behind Manchester United in fifth, leaving Villa rock bottom, eight points from safety after their worst home defeat in the league since 1935.
The first 15 minutes gave little hint of what was to come, but after a forgettable opening the game burst into life when the returning Sturridge made his mark to accept a gift from Villa.
The hosts had looked composed, without threatening, but allowed Sturridge the freedom of the area to guide Coutinho’s cross in from six yards.
Ten minutes later it was 2-0 when Milner’s free-kick from the left, after Jores Okore felled Coutinho, had Mark Bunn flapping and dropped into the corner.
Jordan Henderson should have made it 3-0, but his volley was deflected wide by Okore before Bunn saved from Roberto Firmino.
The hosts wilted even further and an air of resignation surrounded Villa Park following the hosts’ first-half no show – although worse was to come.
Bunn stopped Sturridge two minutes before the break when he turned the striker’s effort away, but Liverpool had already done the damage.
They had barely had to work for their comfortable lead and Simon Mignolet maintained it with a routine stop from Leandro Bacuna after the restart.
But the game was over after three goals inside seven minutes following more dreadful defending from Villa.
First, on 58 minutes, Can robbed Bacuna midway inside Villa’s half, allowing Firmino to race away and tee up Can to drill in from the edge of the box.
Then, five minutes later Origi was sent clear by Coutinho, and the substitute fired beyond Bunn with just his second touch after coming on 60 seconds before.
Worse was to follow as just 156 seconds later Clyne bundled in from four yards after Bunn failed to hold his initial shot.
Villa capitulated and Toure made 6-0 with 19 minutes remaining after the hosts granted him time to plant an unmarked header in from 10 yards.
Scott Sinclair hit the post for the hosts but, job done, Liverpool eased off to the relief of Villa who are destined for relegation.