LIVERPOOL: It’s been a long time since Liverpool enjoyed themselves so much. A 4-0 trouncing of Tottenham lifted them clear at the top of the Premier League with Luis Suarez stretching his lead in the goalscoring charts.
Of course the title race is from over. But a weekend which saw all their top four rivals falter breathed extra confidence through the Kop that, at last, they have both the manager (in Brendan Rodgers) and the team to win that elusive, record-equalling 20th championship and their first in the Premier League era.
Chelsea had set the erratic ball rolling on Saturday by losing 1-0 to struggling Crystal Palace in south London. This was the Blues’ second successive defeat but the first time they had lost to Palace in the league since 1990.
Manager Jose Mourinho’s insistence that Chelsea are not Premier title favourites received wrong-footed vindication from his own captain, John Terry, who ‘lost’ the game by putting through his own goal in the 52nd-minute.
Mourinho praised his defence afterwards but was scathing about the midfielders and forwards, saying: “Other players are fantastic in some matches and disappear in other matches.”
Asked what quality his team required, Mourinho said: “I cannot say in front of the cameras. I can write it on paper.” Offered a notepad after the media conference, the Portuguese wrote “balls”.
The sum total, for Mourinho, was that the club’s Premier title hopes had vanished. He said: “When you depend a little on other results it’s possible but we depend now too much. I don’t think now we can win the league.”
Manchester City have always been Mourinho’s stated favourites but even they let him down by taking the lead at fragile Arsenal only to allow the Gunners to scrap back and snatch a point from a 1-1 draw.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men, who have two matches in hand, would have gone top of the table on Saturday night on goal difference had they managed to protect or build on an early strike from David Silva after Lukas Podolski lost possession in midfield.
Arsenal had been thrashed 6-0 at Chelsea to ruin manager Arsene Wenger’s 1,000th match the previous weekend. But there was no repeat. Mathieu Flamini had one ‘goal’ disallowed before he equalised by converting a low cross from Podolski early in the second half.
Podolski, denied a winner only by a fine save from City keeper Joe Hart, ran himself into the ground into Arsenal’s cause before being substituted in the 77th minute by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
That meant that Liverpool took to the pitch against Tottenham knowing that victory – by any margin – would take them top of the Premier League two points ahead of Chelsea, four ahead of City and seven ahead of ‘lost cause’ Arsenal.
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has been hailed as “the best man manager I’ve ever worked with” by skipper Steven Gerrard, which is serious praise.
Certainly he can look forward to staying on to bring back Champions League football to Anfield next season, wherever Liverpool finish in the top four.
Rodgers’s understanding of players in general and his own players in particular has been responsible for Luis Suarez staying at Anfield and teenage tearaway Raheem Sterling heading for the World Cup finals with England.
Both men prove decisive as Liverpool threatened to humiliate a poor, dispirited Tottenham. In only the second minute a Sterling cross provoked an own goal from Younes Kaboul and then a second for Suarez. This was the Uruguayan’s 29th league goal of term, breaking the club’s Premier record of 28 set by Robbie Fowler. The last man to score 30 in a season was Robin Van Persie for Arsenal in 2011-12.
The second half was a simple procession towards Tottenham’s goal with further goals for Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson.
Tottenham were fortunate to escape so lightly.