Irresistable Luis Suarez heaps more pressure on Malky Mackay
Striker Luis Suarez continued his incredible run of form with two more goals to fire Liverpool to the top of the table and make Cardiff manager Malky Mackay's position even more difficult - if that was at all possible.
The Uruguay international, who caught everyone by surprise by signing a new long-term contract yesterday, made it 19 for the season as Cardiff were despatched 3-1.
Raheem Sterling was also on the scoresheet in between Suarez's two brilliant strikes and although Jordon Mutch's reply just before the hour breathed new life into Cardiff, the home side's grip on the three points was not to be loosened.
In truth the result made little difference to Mackay's future, which appears to have already been pre-determined by Vincent Tan. The owner was present at Anfield so see his side torn apart in the first half.
How much longer Mackay lasts may be assessed in terms of hours rather than days - having been told by Tan earlier in the week to resign or be sacked - but what is enduring are Liverpool's title challenge credentials.
Fuelled by Suarez's goals they have now overtaken long-time leaders Arsenal, who face fellow top-four side Chelsea on Monday, and with the season almost halfway through must now be classed as credible rivals to the favoured front-runners in the Gunners, Manchester City and Chelsea.
Brendan Rodgers' side must face both the latter in their next two matches but with Suarez in the form he is they can go into the games with confidence.
The figures are staggering - and that is not a reference to the reported £200,000-a-week the striker will receive from next season as a result of his new deal.
He has 19 in 12 league matches, including 10 in his last four games, and he set a Premier League record with his first goal - which was his ninth in December, outstripping the previous best in a single month.
It was the purest example of a striker at his best - but also showed there is more to him than just goals.
Having initially begun the move he continued his run towards the penalty area where Jordan Henderson picked him out with an inviting cross which was expertly volleyed past goalkeeper David Marshall.
That maintained his record of scoring in every home match - six in total - he has been available for this season, having been suspended early on.
In doing so be became the first player since Fernando Torres (who scored in eight) in May 2008 to achieve that feat.
Cue the inevitable Liverpool onslaught which saw Martin Skrtel head over, Sterling have a shot blocked and Jon Flanagan and Philippe Coutinho both hit the post - the latter's effort only just kept out by the outstretched boot of Marshall.
It seemed despite Liverpool's dominance their lead would be a slender one at half-time but three minutes before the break they struck again, thanks to their two best players in recent weeks.
Henderson's through-ball was superb in itself but no surprise considering his improved quality this season.
What was a shock was the sight of Suarez, with only Marshall to beat, squaring the ball for Sterling to slot home.
Suarez's second of the game highlighted exactly what that sort of investment brings. Henderson's backheel was all the invitation the Uruguayan needed as he opened his body to curl a shot around a pack of bodies in the penalty area and inside Marshall's left-hand post.
The second half should have been a procession for the home side but that was interrupted by Mutch's unchallenged header from a free-kick in the 58th minute.
Cardiff subsequently enjoyed their best spell of the game but that was ended when Sterling forced Marshall to save in a one-on-one and Suarez followed up to blast a shot against the post.
The win means Liverpool could still be top for Christmas should Arsenal fail to win on Monday and that would be the first time that has happened since 2008.
The last four champions have all been top on Christmas Day. It may still be wishful thinking for Rodgers, who claims he will only consider their chances with 10 games to go, but with Suarez in current form he may have to reassess that sooner rather than later.