Mohamed Salah ran the show as Liverpool boosted their goal difference and title hopes with a devastating 6-0 victory over Leeds United.
The 29-year-old bagged two first-half penalties while Joel Matip also found the net to give the Reds a 3-0 half-time lead. Sadio Mane made it 4-0 10 minutes from time before adding a fifth on 90 minutes. But they were not done as Virgil van Dijk headed home from a corner in stoppage time.
The result served as a warning to City that they are not going away. The Merseysdiers have moved ahead of City in the goal difference column – a significant fact given the nature of the table.
Jurgen Klopp made five changes from the starting XI that beat Norwich City 3-1 on Saturday. Midfielder Thiago Alcantara returned to make his 50th appearance for the club.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Fabinho and Curtis Jones were also given the nod. Kostas Tsimikas, Joe Gomez, Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were the players to make way.
Marcelo Bielsa changed two of the players who started Leeds 4-2 defeat to Manchester United at Elland Road on Sunday.
Defender Robin Koch missed out due to injury while Diego Llorente was not even on the bench. Junior Firpo and Raphinha were both back in the line-up.
Before the game, Klopp urged his charges to forget about Sunday’s EFL Cup final against Chelsea. And they appeared to heed his words as the Reds made a bright start at Anfield.
Luis Diaz was particularly lively and appeared to have beaten Illan Meslier with a curling shot on six minutes only for the ball to hit Mane.
But just moments later, it was the home keeper in trouble as Alisson delayed his clearance for too long. Daniel James managed to get a toe on the ball but the Brazilian cleared up the mess.
However, it was not long before Liverpool were in front through Salah. The Egypt international slotted home from the spot in the 15th minute after Stuart Dallas was adjudged to have blocked Andy Robertson’s cross with his arm.
The goal was Salah’s 18th in the top flight; extending his lead at the top of the Premier League goalscoring charts. Liverpool continued to dominate, with Diaz at the heart of much of their attacking play.
Matip joins the party
Leeds did have the ball in the net but Raphinha’s 27th-minute effort was chalked off for offside And three minutes later it was 2-0 as Matip started and finished a superb move.
The centre-half found Salah before executing a deft finish from the striker’s return pass. Goal difference may be key and Liverpool hit their third five minutes later.
That run and finish from Matip 👌⚽️ pic.twitter.com/VunlrYvQ4y
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) February 23, 2022
Salah netted his second from the spot after Mane had been brought down by Ayling inside the box. VAR had a look to check if the foul was inside the box but there was no reprieve for the Whites.
Fabinho then wasted a gilt-edged chance three minutes before the break, firing over the bar with the goal at his mercy. And Salah’s attempt at netting a first-half hat-trick was thwarted when Firpo cleared off the line.
Leeds were grateful for the half-time whistle.
Bielsa takes action
Bielsa made two changes at half-time as Jamie Shackleton and Tyler Roberts replaced Rodrigo and Mateusz Klich. And the visitors looked a better unit early in the second period.
Klopp’s men looked slightly subdued after their blistering first 45 minutes. But Salah upped the tempo as he tested Meslier with a trademark curling effort on the hour mark.
And a minute later the African wasted another golden chance for his hat-trick, lifting his effort over the bar from inside the area.
Leeds enjoyed a rare foray into the opposition box when Raphinha forced Allison into a rare save on 66 minutes.
Despite taking their feet off the gas, Liverpool still looked dangerous. And Robertson’s sublime cross begged to be put away only for the bounce of the ball to evade both Salah and Mane.
But the latter made amends with his first and Liverpool’s fourth of the night on 80 minutes. A mistake by Meslier let in substitute Henderson who played a superb one-two with Salah before teeing up the AFCON winner.
And he bagged his second on the stroke of full time, tapping home for close range after Divock Origi’s shot had been saved. To rub salt into the wounds, Van Dijk rose unchallenged to head home Robertson’s corner in the 93rd minute.
It is now game on for Klopp’s side but Bielsa will be looking over his shoulder as the bottom three edge ever nearer.