Ruthless, relentless red machine goes from strength to strength
James Pearce reacts to Liverpool's 4-0 win over Newcastle
The roar swept like wildfire around Anfield.
The festive spirit was already in plentiful supply with Liverpool's eighth successive Premier League triumph long since secure. Newcastle United had been mercilessly put to the sword.
But news of Leicester City's winner against Manchester City truly lit the touch paper. Talk about an unexpected late Christmas gift.
Euphoria tumbled down from the stands as the decibel levels were cranked up further.
It was a snapshot of what this title race truly means to Kopites. This was raw emotion. The sense of longing at Anfield is almost palpable.
They have waited nearly three decades for Liverpool to return to the pinnacle of English football. There have been too many false dawns, too many broken dreams along the way for anyone to get carried away at this stage.
Tellingly, it's 'Liverpool top of the league' rather than 'We're going to win the league' which is being belted out with increasing levels of gusto.
But there no doubt that belief is growing both in the dressing room and among the fanbase with every passing week.
Six points now separate Jurgen Klopp's unbeaten pace-setters from nearest challengers Tottenham with champions City a point further back.
As Pep Guardiola's problems start to stack up, Klopp's ruthless, relentless Red Machine simply goes from strength to strength.
They have reached the halfway stage with 51 points – the highest total in the club's 126-year history. Put into context, Liverpool only collected 52 points in the entire 2011/12 season.
Remarkably, with 16 wins and three draws, they have conceded just seven goals in 19 matches. Their tally of a dozen clean sheets has already equalled the number they kept in the 1989/90 campaign – the last time the championship was delivered to Anfield.
Klopp has found the perfect formula. There is hunger and desire in abundance with no shortage of attacking swagger.
But the Reds also boast a backline which is tighter than Ebenezer Scrooge. Unlike the last title challenge of 2013/14, this is a mission built on rock-solid foundations.
The 100th win of Klopp's reign was wrapped up with a minimum of fuss. The manager had insisted in the build up that his players weren't feeling the pressure after the hunter became the hunted and the leaders duly delivered a composed, mature display which proved him right.
Captain Jordan Henderson epitomised his team's show of total commitment as he covered every blade of grass and drove Liverpool forward.
Dejan Lovren was the latest unlikely hero as his early rocket got the Reds off to a flyer.
The second half was a procession with Mohamed Salah's 15th goal of the season followed by Xherdan Shaqiri's neat finish and Fabinho opening his account for the Reds.
Fortress Anfield had claimed another victim. That's 30 league games unbeaten on home turf dating back to April 2017.
Now the next challenge is to ensure that fear factor extends into the new year by signing off 2018 in style when Arsenal are the visitors on Saturday.
Klopp had continued his rotation policy with Gini Wijnaldum and Shaqiri recalled at the expense of Fabinho and Naby Keita.
There was also the welcome sight of Trent Alexander-Arnold making his comeback from injury in place of James Milner, who was ruled out with a hamstring problem.
The fact that Rafa Benitez made half a dozen changes and left out top scorer Salomon Rondon suggested that the Spaniard's festive priorities lay elsewhere.
The Reds endured an early scare when Matt Ritchie's cross dropped perfectly to Joselu at the back post but he nodded down and wide.
But they soon settled as they zipped the ball around at pace and stretched Newcastle's backline.
Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane combined neatly to tee up Shaqiri but the Swiss attacker couldn't provide the finish.
The breakthrough arrived from inside 11 minutes. Shaqiri's short corner was whipped into the box by Andy Robertson and Jamaal Lascelles's clearing header dropped to Lovren 14 yards out.
The Croatia international swung his right boot and unleashed an unstoppable half volley which ripped into the roof of the net.
It was only his fifth Premier League goal in five seasons at Liverpool and the kind of finish Kop legends Kevin Keegan and Sir Kenny Dalglish, who watched on together from the Main Stand, would have been proud of.
Liverpool went on to enjoy 73% possession in the first half but as Newcastle sat deep and defended in numbers Klopp's men struggled to create clear cut chances.
Alisson Becker was commanding once again – claiming crosses and immediately looked to kick-start attacks with a quick throw.
Liverpool's final ball let them down at times as moments of real promise came to nothing.
When Firmino misplaced a pass, the groans were audible. Klopp turned, threw his arms up and glared at the fans behind him in the Main Stand.
The message was clear: there is no place for any hint of negativity in this title charge. The warning was heeded.
Mohamed Diame produced a crucial challenge to thwart Virgil van Dijk as he sought to latch on to Mane's nod down from Shaqiri's searching pass.
Only the heroics of Martin Dubravka denied the Reds a second goal on the cusp of half-time. Shaqiri's free-kick was deflected off the wall and forced a fine finger-tip save from the Slovakian keeper.
Three minutes after the restart Liverpool had the breathing space they craved.
Salah burst into the box before he was senselessly pulled back by Paul Dummett. Graham Scott pointed to the spot and Salah stepped up to sweep the ball into the bottom corner.
It was the first penalty Liverpool had scored in the Premier League at Anfield since Milner converted against Sunderland in November 2016. They hadn't even been awarded one at home since Salah was thwarted against Huddersfield 14 months ago.
Newcastle's resolve was broken and Klopp was afforded the luxury of resting weary legs with Fabinho and Daniel Sturridge on for Wijnaldum and Firmino.
With 11 minutes to go it was 3-0. Henderson's pass was perfectly weighted for Alexander-Arnold, whose low cross was clinically turned home by Shaqiri.
Shortly after the tidings of great joy arrived from the King Power Stadium, Fabinho got in on the act as he headed in Salah's corner from close range.
Another roar followed when Alisson's late save from Sean Longstaff protected his clean sheet.
Liverpool had dished out another hiding without really getting out of second gear.
In the closing stages Anfield paid homage to Benitez. That adulation is richly deserved. He gave Kopites their greatest night this century in Istanbul.
If the second half of this season matches the first half Klopp will join him in Anfield's pantheon of legends.
Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson (Clyne 82), Wijnaldum (Fabinho 62), Henderson, Shaqiri, Firmino (Sturridge 69), Salah, Mane.
Not used: Mignolet, Keita, Lallana, Origi.
Newcastle: Dubravka, Yedlin, Lascelles, Fernandez, Dummett, Ritchie (Murphy 81), Hayden, Diame, Kenedy (Longstaff 73), Muto, Joselu.
Not used: Schar, Rondon, Perez, Manquillo, Woodman.
Referee: Graham Scott
Goals: Lovren 11, Salah 48, Shaqiri 79, Fabinho 85.
Man of the match: Jordan Henderson. Led by example. A tireless shift from the Reds skipper.
Copyright - The Liverpool Echo
The ratings as Liverpool beat Newcastle 4-0
By Ian Doyle Liverpool reporter
Alisson Becker 7
Watched Joselu send a free header wide early on and made a couple of pressure-relieving catches. Cold second half until an injury-time save from Longstaff.
Trent Alexander-Arnold 7
Had his hands full dealing with livewire Ritchie first half, but got to grips with him after the break. Also improved his deliveries and laid on the third for Shaqiri.
Virgil van Dijk 7
Was bypassed for Joselu's early chance but otherwise kept things simple. So bored after the break he regularly sauntered upfield for some action.
Dejan Lovren 8
The busiest of Liverpool's defenders when Newcastle threatened and made some good clearing headers, and contributed a thunderous finish for the opener.
Andy Robertson 8
A trademark non-stop showing down the left flank and his cross caused the confusion for Lovren's strike.
Jordan Henderson 8
Always keen to keep Liverpool moving forward while helping out in defence. Even showboated on one occasion as well as picking up a painful one from Lascelles.
Gini Wijnaldum 6
Was hounded somewhat in midfield and struggled to settle. Improved a bit after the break but not his best day against his former club. Subbed.
Xherdan Shaqiri 7
His performance was one of short bursts, with not everything he tried coming off first half. Much better after the break and scored a well-worked team goal.
Roberto Firmino 7
Found the spaces between the lines well in the first quarter but then started giving the ball away and conceding fouls. More consistent after the break.
Sadio Mane 7
Popped up as the last man in a central position on several occasions but wasn't quite been able to get on the end of some inviting passes. Did everything but score, to be honest.
Mohamed Salah 8
Loitered with intent before the interval, then won and scored the penalty for the second and his 15 of the season and put in the corner for the fourth. Always looks dangerous.
Fabinho (for Wijnaldum 62) 7
A fine header gave him his first goal for the club.
Daniel Sturridge (for Firmino 69) 7
Some clever footwork except for the bit where he tricked his way out of play.
Nathaniel Clyne (for Robertson 82)