Middlesbrough 0-3 Liverpool: Adam Lallana brace sees Reds go second
Jurgen Klopp's decision to drop goalkeeper Loris Karius was vindicated on a night when the brilliance of Adam Lallana swept Liverpool to a 3-0 win over Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium.
Klopp replaced Karius - responsible for errors in recent games against Bournemouth and West Ham - with Simon Mignolet and the Belgian responded with a brilliant one-handed save to deny Viktor Fischer moments after his side's opener.
Otherwise Mignolet saw little action as Liverpool mightily impressed, building on Lallana's close-range opener on the half hour to dominate the second period and increase their lead through Divock Origi then Lallana's second.
It was precisely the kind of reaction Klopp had called for after their calamitous final few minutes against the Cherries was followed by a frustrating 2-2 draw against the Hammers which left them looking anything but title contenders.
Those recent dropped points ensured Liverpool started the game six points behind leaders Chelsea but they began with plenty of intent, Lallana fizzing an early shot from long-range which was blocked by Calum Chambers.
But Boro matched them for pace and endeavour with Fabio marking one of the better halves of his Boro career by drifting in from the left and firing a shot straight at Mignolet from the edge of the box.
Mignolet was called into action again midway through the first period when Boro captain Ben Gibson headed the ball into his arms from Adam Forshaw's left-wing free-kick.
The visitors snatched the lead on the half-hour when Nathaniel Clyne was given space to attack down the right and Lallana headed home his cross from point-blank range.
Moments later, Mignolet justified Klopp's decision by denying Fischer, who cut in from the Boro right and fired a rising shot from a tight angle.
Goalscorer Lallana got back to block a goal-bound effort from Marten de Roon, but Boro's anxiety to grab an equaliser almost caught them out when Roberto Firmino put through Sadio Mane, who hit a low shot across Victor Valdes and against the post.
Mane had two shots blocked in a furious start to the second half by the visitors, prompting Boro boss Aitor Karanka to make a double substitution and throw Stewart Downing and Grant Leadbitter into the fray.
It was all in vain as Liverpool extended their lead on the hour mark when neat work by Georginio Wijnaldum set Lallana free on the right side of the box and the in-form midfielder crossed for Origi to sweep home the simplest of chances.
And eight minutes later it was game over as referee Jon Moss waved advantage when Mane was fouled on the edge of the box, allowing Origi to cross for Lallana to score his second from eight yards.
The visitors cruised through the remaining minutes, pinning Boro back into their own half, and Lallana was richly deserving his ovation from the Liverpool supporters when he was replaced by Lucas Leiva in the 82nd minute.
Jordan Henderson drilled a low free-kick into the Boro wall before the hosts' last shot at a consolation petered out in comical fashion when Adama Traore completely mis-judged a deep left-wing cross from Downing.
Loris Karius to be dropped, Simon Mignolet to start
Jurgen Klopp will drop under-fire goalkeeper Loris Karius from the Liverpool starting line-up for Wednesday's trip to Middlesbrough.
The 23-year-old 'keeper was criticised for the second week running after conceding twice in Sunday's 2-2 draw with West Ham United at Anfield.
Simon Mignolet, who lost his place to Karius earlier this season, will be recalled to start between the posts at the Riverside Stadium.
Karius initially came under the spotlight after his error allowed Nathan Ake to score the winning goal in a 4-3 defeat at Bournemouth.
Gary Neville and fellow Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher were both critical of Karius' display in their analysis of the game, with the former claiming that the Germany Under-21 international was simply "not good enough".
Karius was later quoted in the Daily Mail, saying: “He was a top player, then he was a manager for a short bit and now he is back to being an expert again,” referencing Neville's failed stint in charge of Valencia.
The £4.3m summer signing from Mainz was retained by Klopp the following weekend for the visit of West Ham, but conceded soft goals to Dimitri Payet and Michail Antonio.
Karius' positioning for Payet's goal, struck from a long range free-kick, drew criticism and Carragher, referencing the comments about Neville, advised him to "shut up and do your job".
Despite the errors against West Ham, Karius was expected to keep his place for the trip to the Riverside Stadium after Klopp had given a vociferous defence of his goalkeeper during a pre-match press conference.
“The pundits, former players most of them, forgot completely how it felt when they got criticised. Especially the Neville brothers; the one who was the manager he obviously should know that too much criticism never helps," he said on Monday.
"But he is not interested in helping a Liverpool player, I can imagine, but that makes the things he says not make more sense. He showed he struggled with the job to judge players so why do we let him talk about players on television?"
However, Klopp has decided to reinstate Mignolet, having stressed throughout the season that his two senior goalkeepers are in genuine competition for one starting place.