Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League with a composed display at Anfield that sent Bournemouth to an eighth successive away defeat.
Three days after Manchester City moved top on goal difference, Jurgen Klopp’s side responded to talk of the pressure of a title race showing in their performances in emphatic style.
After a fairly cagey opening which saw Ryan Fraser test Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson, Sadio Mane settled any nerves by powerfully heading home James Milner’s cross.
Georginio Wijnaldum had not been allowed to stay in the Liverpool hotel on Friday because of illness but he was in fine form, doubling the lead with a sublime lob over the helpless Artur Boruc.
Moments after the break, Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino combined in a move Klopp hailed “world class” to present Mohamed Salah with a simple finish from 10 yards, his 20th goal in all competitions this season.
Klopp’s side never looked in danger of losing their lead and moved on to 65 points, a tally which would have been enough for at least a nine-point lead in the title race in any of the last five seasons after 26 games.
Naby Keita had one of his best games in a Liverpool shirt. The midfielder had 120 touches – a game high. He probed and played 63 passes in the Bournemouth half – also a game high – and completed 91% of his passes in all.
The pace both Liverpool and Manchester City have set has continued to demand the need for almost unprecedented consistency in a title race and prompted questions of Klopp’s side after successive draws.
But here they crushed hope Bournemouth may have had after a solid opening quarter and Eddie Howe’s side never looked capable of testing the nerve of the home side after falling behind.
While Mane and Salah will win plaudits for goals, Firmino’s use of the ball throughout deserves praise, none more so than when his superb flick sent Salah into the box after half-time, allowing the Egyptian to coolly round off a fine team move.
Salah later rattled the bar from a delightful Firmino reverse-pass and only needs one more goal to reach 50 in the Premier League. Having completed only 62 matches, he looks set to beat Alan Shearer’s record of reaching the mark in 66 games.
In all, Klopp’s side took advantage of the tame offering their visitors provided by registering 20 shots, with Mane guilty of missing a free-header from 10 yards after the break and Firmino somehow wasting a chance when one-on-one with the keeper late on.
Are Liverpool showing nerves? This result would imply not, though Bournemouth’s refusal to show any true ambition in a defensive 4-4-1-1 system provided little for the home side to think about.
But the sight of Trent Alexander-Arnold coming off the bench to end a spell of injury will please Klopp and his forward line of Firmino, Salah and Mane have now been responsible for 14 of the Reds’ last 15 goals in the Premier League.
If Liverpool are to end 29 years of wait for a league title and see off the relentless challenge of City, that trio may well need to maintain such form.
Salah’s goal was described as “world class” by Jurgen Klopp after fine build-up play
Bournemouth will look to Alisson’s solid diving save from Fraser early on as evidence they were briefly in this game.
Their early defensive set up looked to be working, with the lack of space on offer between their back four and midfield five proving problematic for their hosts.
But when Mane got across the near post to head home, they simply looked confused as to how to respond.
Given their healthy mid-table status and only a minimal threat of being sucked towards the bottom three, they had little to lose but elected for caution.
Without the goals and creativity of the injured Callum Wilson and David Brooks, they were devoid of ideas and looked like a side almost used to losing on the road.
They have now been beaten in eight consecutive away league matches for the first time since March of 1984, when they were in the third tier.
The defeat means only bottom side Huddersfield and second bottom Fulham – on 48 and 58 respectively – have conceded more than the 47 goals the Cherries have leaked this season.
Substitute Lys Mousset’s contribution off the bench – testing Alisson and later shooting wide – was one of few positives but Howe’s side still sit in a respectable 11th position.
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