Liverpool regained top spot in the Premier League by getting back to winning ways as goals from Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum and Mohamed Salah secured a comfortable 3-0 win over Bournemouth on Saturday.
Back-to-back draws against Leicester and West Ham had seen Jurgen Klopp’s men usurped by Manchester City on goal difference in midweek.
But Liverpool took full advantage of their game in hand over the champions to open up a three-point lead and put the pressure back on City when they host Chelsea on Sunday.
Klopp had called on his side to enjoy the “excitement” of what promises to be a thrilling title race rather than being bogged down by the nerves of recent displays as they seek to end a 29-year wait to win the title.
And after Mane broke the deadlock midway through the first half to relieve any lasting tension around Anfield, Liverpool settled back into the stride that saw them win nine Premier League games in a row through November and December.
James Milner again deputised at right-back with Trent Alexander-Arnold only fit enough to return from injury on the bench and his cross was powerfully headed home by Mane for his fourth goal in as many games.
Wijnaldum’s return was Klopp’s only change from the 1-1 draw at West Ham on Monday and the Dutch midfielder’s presence made a huge difference throughout.
Salah should have doubled Liverpool’s lead when Wijnaldum unselfishly squared when played clean through by Roberto Firmino on a rapid counter-attack, but the Egyptian miss-controlled and allowed the Bournemouth defence to regroup.
Instead, Wijnaldum scored the second goal Liverpool needed for some breathing space himself in stunning fashion 11 minutes before the break.
Andy Robertson picked out Wijnaldum’s run into the box and he took a touch before delicately lifting a lob over the helpless Artur Boruc.
The 38-year-old Polish goalkeeper again kept Salah waiting for his goal by turning over a dipping volley a minute before half-time.
However, Salah finally extended his lead as the Premier League’s top scorer three minutes into the second period as a wonderful flick from Firmino teed him up to slot home his 20th goal of the season.
Mane should have inflicted more punishment on a Bournemouth side that has now lost their last eight away games in the league when he headed wide when unmarked from Wijnaldum’s cross.
Salah also hit the bar before Wijnaldum was given a standing ovation as he made way for Alexander-Arnold.
While City continue to fight for silverware on four fronts, a second warm weather training trip in a matter of weeks now lies in wait for Liverpool thanks to their early exit from the FA Cup.
Klopp’s men are not in action again until Bayern Munich visit in the Champions League in 10 days’ time. That extra freshness could ultimately swing the title Liverpool’s way with 12 games left to hold onto their lead.