Liverpool show ruthless streak of champions to pounce on Man City's frailties
Liverpool have lived through too many false dawns to take a first Premier League title in 30 years for granted, but in overpowering their biggest rivals Manchester City 3-1 to open up an eight-point lead at the top of the table, they showed why the long wait looks set to end.
Only City's brilliance kept Jurgen Klopp's men waiting last season when even the third highest points tally in the league's history still saw the Reds miss out on the title by a single point.
That disappointment has broken Liverpool sides of the past who have finished second best and quickly regressed.
But Klopp's outfit are a different mould. A mix of strength and blistering speed, blended with the inspiration of a fan base that has waited too long to see another title challenge falter.
"At Anfield yesterday you could not escape the stirring evidence of a team on a mission," said The Times newspaper.
"Even those of a Manchester City persuasion could not fail to see opponents more ruthless than last year, even more committed to this challenge."
Ruthlessness was the difference between the two sides. Where Fabinho, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane produced differing finishes each of their own special quality, City's difference makers were wayward.
Sergio Aguero is still to score at Anfield and the usually clinical Argentine may not get a better chance than they one he dragged wide with just Alisson Becker to beat just before half-time.
Raheem Sterling thrived off the jibes of the fans he left to join City four years ago as he twisted, turned and teased England teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold but always found an extra Liverpool body in the way to thwart him.
The course of the game and the title race could have been very different had Alexander-Arnold been penalised for a handball inside his own box 22 seconds before Fabinho struck the first dagger into City's hearts just six minutes in.
When Salah stooped to head home Andy Robertson's brilliant in-swinging cross seven minutes later, Liverpool had scored with their first two attacks.
- City's defensive woes -
While the European champions' efficiency was exceptional, the holes in City's defence were entirely predictable.
A failure to replace captain Vincent Kompany after his departure to take charge of Anderlecht has been compounded by a long-term knee injury to Aymeric Laporte to leave Pep Guardiola scrambling for solutions.
Another untimely injury left the Catalan without first-choice goalkeeper Ederson and the Brazilian's back up Claudio Bravo should have done better to prevent Mane's diving header at the back post extinguishing any hope of a City comeback early in the second half.
The makeshift back-four of Angelino, on his second Premier League start, an out of position Fernandinho, John Stones and Kyle Walker was never likely to resist the force of Liverpool's front three.
Defiant in defeat, Guardiola lauded his players for the way they penned Liverpool in for the final half hour even with the game gone at 3-0 as Bernardo Silva pulled a goal back.
"There is still seven months to go. If Liverpool win the title, I will be the first to congratulate them for how good they are," said Guardiola.
"We want to fight until the end."
City find themselves in the unusual position of fourth, nine points behind and with the danger of seeing the gap grow rather than cut in the coming weeks.
High-flying Chelsea visit the Etihad after the international window, while a clash with second placed Leicester awaits in December after a Manchester derby and a trip to Arsenal.
"Other people 100 per cent said already from now on Liverpool can only lose it, but that's a very negative approach," said Klopp, whose side have dropped just two points in their last 21 league games.
"The pressure or whatever is not there yet. Maybe it will come, but in the moment it is just opportunity and go for it, do the work, throw all in what you have and then let's see what happens."
With greater expectancy will come a greater pressure, but this Liverpool have all the hallmarks of champions in waiting.
© 2019 AFP