Liverpool’s charge towards what would be a first league title in 30 years continued as a 2-0 victory over arch rivals Manchester United took them 16 points clear at the top of the table.
Manchester City’s draw on Saturday and Leicester’s defeat at Burnley earlier in the day handed Jurgen Klopp’s side a boost, not that they needed one, ahead of Sunday’s game against their old enemies.
An early Virgil Van Dijk header was followed by Mohamed Salah’s breakaway goal in stoppage time, but the lateness of the second strike did not do justice to the dominance they had in the game.
Liverpool have not lost a league game for 381 days, have lost just one top-flight match in the last 623 days, are unbeaten at Anfield since April 2017 and undefeated in 39 league matches.
Our 1â£5â£0â£th win in all comps under the boss 🙌🔴 pic.twitter.com/NkCAl06FaP— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 19, 2020
A 19th title, which would put them within one of United, is seemingly within their grasp and could be achieved in record time, especially as they have a match in hand over their rivals.
The visitors were not given much chance before kick-off and the confirmation of the absence of top scorer Marcus Rashford, who is likely to be sidelined for a significant period with a reported stress fracture in his back, only increased the odds against them.
Rashford’s unavailability meant Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side played an adaptation of the 3-4-1-2 formation they used in the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October – the only league match Klopp’s side have dropped points in this season – with left-back Luke Shaw employed as a third centre-half.
But without the pace of Rashford up front it left them somewhat toothless. In fact, United were everything the league leaders were not: slow to react, ponderous in possession, and lacking in ideas and quality.
Liverpool waited for their opponents’ early energy to subside and then struck after 14 minutes.
The diminutive Brandon Williams was tasked with marking the considerably taller Van Dijk from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner and the defender did not get off the ground as the Holland international out-jumped United’s new captain Harry Maguire to power a header past a static David De Gea.
It was the first time since Arsenal in 2001-02 a team had scored in each of their first 22 league matches and that was the signal for Klopp’s side to go through the gears – only for VAR to frustrate them.
Roberto Firmino curled a shot across De Gea and inside the far post but his goal chalked off by VAR for a foul, which was open to debate, by Van Dijk on the goalkeeper in the build-up.
Georginio Wijnaldum then tucked a shot inside the same post, from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s precise through-ball, but was flagged offside and VAR agreed.
As the half drew to a close Sadio Mane forced De Gea into saving with an outstretched foot on the counter-attack, seconds after Andreas Pereira had missed United’s best chance. The Brazilian slid in at the far post but could not get the contact needed on Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross.
Liverpool tried to kill off the game in the first 10 minutes of the second half, registering seven shots on target, with Salah bundling a shot wide from six yards and De Gea tipping Jordan Henderson’s shot onto the post the best efforts.
When United did get chances they wasted them: Fred shot wide after being gifted the ball from an Alexander-Arnold throw-in while Anthony Martial wildly sliced over having found space down the left.
The move from which Mane fired another shot wide summed up United as Maguire moved forward to seemingly take the loose ball on halfway only for Wijnaldum to easily tap it past him and launch the counter-attack.
Somehow they contrived not to score until added time when Alisson Becker’s quick punt downfield picked out Salah on his own and he held off Daniel James to slot under De Gea.
The Egypt international’s celebration, whipping off his shirt, was uncharacteristic – as was the charge from Alisson, who was the first man to congratulate his team-mate having raced 100 yards downfield.