‘Excellence is not an act, but a habit’ read one of the banners beautifully carpeting The Kop and Liverpool duly continued their custom of winning at Anfield. After dropping five points in their previous three league encounters, more than they had relinquished in the 38 prior, normal service was resumed in these abnormal times. A comfortable, swaggering 4-0 victory against Crystal Palace was secured, the title they have hankered after for three decades almost in their hands.
On Tuesday, Jurgen Klopp was asked whether he was contemplating the unthinkable: Manchester City – back their ruthless best under Project Restart – could mathematically catch Liverpool. His response was short but surgical, the real inconceivable element was how any side could be so far ahead of Pep Guardiola’s juggernaut.
“We must have done a lot of things right,” Klopp said, and on Wednesday night, England’s pacesetters provided a timely and titanic reminder of why they are 23 points clear at the summit.
They covered every inch of the pitch like champions, with their passion to own the ball matched by effective flamboyance on it.
Klopp selected his strongest line-up and it showed at an Anfield coated by divine sunshine, the remnants of the hottest day of the year still lingering during the match. Andy Robertson and Mohamed Salah shrugged off knocks to return to the XI, with Gini Wijnaldum and Joe Gomez replacing Naby Keita and Joel Matip respectively.
Roy Hodgson, by contrast, lost his trump card on 15 minutes as Wilfried Zaha limped off with Max Meyer on to deputise. The Palace manager had already predicted an arduous evening on Merseyside, pointing out it was just a “trot to the title” for Liverpool, who “seem determined to crush anything that comes before them.”
His forecast was accurate. By half-time, the hosts were 2-0 up but the scoreline did them a disservice. Liverpool had 12 shots before the interval, nine inside the box, could have been awarded two penalties – all while restricting Palace to zero efforts on target.
Their goals were products of magnificence. For the first, Trent Alexander-Arnold stood over a free-kick, with Wayne Hennessey challenging him to get his hit over the wall and curled into the top corner.
The 21-year-old obliged with supreme technique and an air of nonchalance. Jordan Henderson, Virgil van Dijk, Firmino and Wijnaldum all had opportunities to extend Liverpool’s advantage, but Salah finally did.
Fabinho shrugged off Jordan Ayew to deliver a glorious ball over the top for the Egyptian, who escaped Patrick van Aanholt’s attention.
Salah chested down the pass, stepping inside to coolly clip the ball past Hennessey.
Liverpool did not cease their offensive intentions nor their defensive diligence after the interval. Unfortunately for the visitors, neither did they turn off the wondrous goals tap.
Fabinho, who turned in a titan performance in the middle of the park, received a pass from Robertson. He took a touch and lit a firecracker from 30 yards out that blasted past Hennessey.
Only 55 minutes had been played at that point, but Palace’s pain was not over.
Sadio Mane started a brilliant passage of play, swivelling on the left touchline before laying the ball off to Firmino. The Brazilian fed Salah, who supplied a defence-splitting pass to match the run of the Senegalese speedster, who opened his body and bang!
Liverpool’s fourth was nestled in the bottom right.
Klopp made a raft of changes to ensure freshness, but the mammoth alteration is that after 30 long years, Liverpool will soon be champions.
That could happen if Manchester City fail to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Thursday.
But the how and where of it won’t matter when records are tumbling and number 18 – after the wait, the ‘will never happen,’ the worst of times and the near misses – becomes 19.