Match Report and player analysis by Robbie Amins for talklfc
Liverpool put five past hapless West Bromwich Albion and could even afford to miss a penalty after Cosmin Contra was sent off for using his hand to stop a certain goal. With games coming thick and fast during this period, Rafa Benitez decided to rest Harry Kewell and Neil Mellor. Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia was relegated to bench as Djimi Traore came in at left back freeing up John Arne Riise to play at left midfield. Antonio Nunez started in place of Garcia and Didi Hamann returned to the starting line-up.
After a period of untidy passing from both sides, Johnny Riise put the Reds ahead. In the 17th minute, Steven Gerrard played in a marvellous left-footed pass which was duly met by the Norwegian with a volley. WBA keeper Russell Hoult got a hand to it but could not keep out the shot. The Albion keeper did well to try to keep his team in contention by parrying Baros' 39th-minute penalty when to be honest, it was a poor penalty by the Czech.
Cosmin Contra conceded the spot-kick and was shown the red card after using his hand to stop Antonio Nunez from scoring his first Liverpool goal. Florent Sinama-Pongolle probably should have scored from the rebound only to lose his footing under a challenge from a West Brom defender. He wanted another penalty and then Baros had a second chance but Darren Purse cleared his shot on the line.
Pongolle then started the move for the second goal and finished it off by volleying in Riise's cross. The young Frenchman deserved the goal after troubling the West Brom defence all night with his pace and quick turns. Captain Marvel Stevie Gerrard then decided to get into the act with Liverpool's third four minutes later. Straight from the training ground this one. Hamann laid off the ball to Gerrard and he drilled in a powerful effort through the defensive wall and in off the Hoult's right-hand post.
Liverpool was stroking the ball around effortlessly and to add to salt to Albion's wound, Rafa Benitez introduced Xabi Alonso into the game, giving Steven Gerrard a much-deserved rest. Alonso was proving a class above the rest with his range of passing and 9 minutes before the end, Riise got his second goal. After a pass by Xabi Alonso, Hamann tried and failed to get at the end of it but the ball went to Riise who unleashed a magnificent shot that screamed towards the top corner.
And then another substitute Luis Garcia got his name on the scoresheet. Riise who was having a very good game to say the least, drilled in a cross-shot that was tapped in from close range by the little Spaniard. Big win for Liverpool, they've now reduced the gap with Boro who is ahead of them in the table to just one point. Southampton comes to Anfield next....
Jerzy is desperately trying to hang on to the goalkeeper's spot and the clean sheet would have done him no harm. Did very well to clear the ball with a diving header after a dangerous ball was played in and could have led to a a clearcut goalscoring chance for Albion.
After a less than impressive start to his Liverpool career, Steve is showing his form that once won him the vote as the Premiership's rightback of the year a couple of seasons back. Did well defensively and certainly should start regardless of whether Josemi is fit or not.
Carra looked shaky at first and almost handed West Brom the initiative after slipping and his header went straight to Earnshaw. Fortunately, the striker couldn't take advantage of the error. But Carra regained his usual composure as the game went on.
He bailed Jamie Carragher out of trouble with a superb last-ditch tackle to deny Earnshaw. And he had a much better outing than in the last few matches.
Maybe it's the Christmas parties but Djimi didn't look as good as he did a very weeks back. He looked nervous at times but had a decent game and joined in the attacking raids down the left flank.
Antonio did well without being very outstanding. He was denied his first Liverpool goal after his header was cleared off the line by Contra's Hand of God. Went on a few good runs down the right and whipped in a few decent crosses in.
Stevie G had another excellent game and he got his well-deserved rest after being replaced in the second half. It was a typical Steven Gerrard cracker from Hamann's lay off and what a ball that was for Riise to open the scoring.
Back in the starting line-up, Didi was efficient as usual. Never looked like he had to step up another gear and along with Gerrard and then Alonso, controlled the midfield for Liverpool.
John Arne Riise
Undoubtedly the Man of the Match for his two goals and involvement in the other ones. Not many players have got that venom and accuracy that Riise possess in his left foot. So what happens now? Put him back at left back in the next game or let him keep out Harry Kewell out of the side?
He looked like he was returning to his best form last week but he didn't really get into the game yesterday. Didn't see a lot of the ball in the first half and he put the penalty too close to Hoult. But I'm sure the real Milan Baros will turn up against Southampton.
Was the livelier of the front two and his sudden burst of speed and quick turns troubled the West Brom defence. He is still raw but Flo Po has got a bright future ahead of him in the game. And he would be pleased to get his first Premiership goal in months.
Xabi came on in place of Gerrard and tore West Bromwich Albion apart with his passing ability. His distribution is probably second to none and his delivery ensured that Liverpool made the extra man count at wide areas.
With Josemi injured, Rafa Benitez couldn't take a risk with Steve Finnan and gave him a rest by bringing on Warnock. Did okay at left back and the Academy grad is never afraid to get stuck in.
Luis surely couldn't waste that chance. It was a tap-in but a goal's a goal. It will do his confidence much good and he didn't give away the ball as much as he always does.
Man of the Match: John Arne Riise
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez: "It was a good game for us. We played well although we sometimes did not keep the ball. After the penalty and the sending off it was easy. First half we were controlling the game, it's important to win and score goals but it is more important for me to see the team play well. When you start winning you show more confidence. We have three more points and we'll see about the next game. We know we played against 10 players. I hope, in our next game, to be closer. The most important thing is the next two games are at home, we normally play well at home."
"It's a Happy Christmas for us and for the supporters, but we want to reduce the gap on the sides above us and I hope this will give us a lot of confidence. We have a lot of games now and if we can show the same mentality at home in the next two games, we will get more points. We are looking to reduce the gap, but we are always only thinking of that next game and we expect to have Neil Mellor and Harry Kewell available for that. It is an advantage to play against ten men, but sometimes it can be difficult. But all the team concentrated all of the time and that enabled us to win."
West Brom manger Bryan Robson: "I felt there was not much between the teams in the first half but the penalty killed us and Liverpool were too good for us with 10 men. We started the game well but Liverpool were too good for us. We keep having lapses defensively and teams are not working too hard to score against us. I thought we matched Liverpool in the first half and made some situations ourselves but once (Cosmin) Contra got sent off Liverpool just had too much for us."
Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher: "We're a few points behind the top four but I'm confident we will sort out the league form in the second half of the season. We've had injuries but we're getting a few back now and I'm sure the manager will be looking to add a few players during the January transfer window."
Man of the Match John Arne Riise: "We managed to get two early goals in the second half to kill the game off and to win 5-0 is a great result for us. I was looking for the hat-trick to be honest but it turned into a good cross."