Rodgers praises Reds' nerveless rise to summit
Liverpool 4 Tottenham 0
Published 31/03/2014 | 02:30
The Premier League crown is there for Liverpool. They can see it, smell it and dream of it; and an emphatic victory over Tottenham Hotspur offered the most compelling evidence yet of how close they are to touching it.
Brendan Rodgers once suggested the expectations on those who wear the Liverpool shirt made it one of the heaviest in football. The manager's intention was to lighten the load, but the inevitable consequence of an increasingly persuasive title charge is his players will feel they are carrying the weight of Atlas in the closing weeks of the season.
Not that you would notice during the 4-0 win. Any pre-match notions – suggested by Tim Sherwood – that Liverpool would 'bottle' it as the finishing line approaches were dispelled emphatically and, at times, thrillingly. This is not supposed to be the time for routine hammerings but from the moment Younes Kaboul deflected in an own goal after two minutes, Rodgers' side were thriving under the pressure of returning to the top of the Premier League.
"There were no nerves. No anxiety and no pressure. It was great to watch," said Rodgers, who has excelled in reducing the feelings of anxiety on the pitch even if he is powerless to do so off it.
Forget the players, it will be the supporters arranging a session with Dr Steve Peters to cope with what promises to be a stirring but torturous finale for a club craving what they have missed since 1990. This performance will make believers of the most hardened cynics.
There were signs even the Kop is starting to relax. Liverpool have dropped only five points on their own turf all season and there was no danger they would do so against such a limp opponent yesterday.
There was another record – there have been more than a national archive at Anfield this season – when Luis Suarez eclipsed Robbie Fowler's best of 28 Premier League goals with Liverpool's second, but this performance was another tribute to what Rodgers calls "the collective".
Further goals from Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson left Sherwood in uncharacteristically impassive mood, his job application looking increasingly weak.
Liverpool are greatly assisted by their ability to recreate the blitz at the start of each home game. Tottenham could empathise with their north London neighbours as, like Arsenal recently, they were behind before they had exchanged a pass.
Raheem Sterling, who terrorised Danny Rose all afternoon, sent Glen Johnson scurrying down the right wing and his cross was diverted past Hugo Lloris by Kaboul.
Sterling was later granted a standing ovation for a performance which has surely secured his World Cup place. Ray Lewington, the England assistant coach, was here and must have been tempted to applaud with everyone else.
Kaboul and Jan Vertonghen's exposure was alarming, the movement of Liverpool's flexible frontrunners threatening with every advance. Edgy on the ball and impulsive in the tackle, the Spurs pair looked like they would rather be somewhere else, and although it was due to injury it resembled an act of mercy when the Belgian was substituted on 24 minutes.
His replacement, Michael Dawson, fared no better. Within a minute he had miskicked into Suarez's path and the Uruguayan showed pace, strength and accuracy with his finish.
They have been calling a two-goal lead compulsory here for most of this season, the remaining question being whether apprehension would creep in or this would be the platform for a hammering of White Hart Lane standards. It was the latter.
The Tottenham manager was a subdued, temperate presence, although there were moments towards the end of the first half he might have felt encouraged.
Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was not exclusively a spectator, but there was a notable lack of physicality and guile in the Spurs forward line. If the jury was still out on Roberto Soldado, surely the verdict is unanimous now. He was out of his depth.
"Where is our manager," was the rendition from the visiting fans. They have witnessed one beating too many from those they considered rivals at the start of the season.
Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman, must lament missing out on Rodgers in 2012, when the Northern Irishman felt the lure of Anfield was greater than that of north London.
While Liverpool were poised in possession, finding angles with their passing and full of the penetration and pace which is becoming their hallmark, Spurs were disparate and fragile.
The absence of Emanuel Adebayor was severe and but for Lloris, Liverpool could have cancelled out Manchester City's advantageous goal difference.
Suarez thought he had his second three minutes before half-time, Sterling again stealing possession from Kaboul and crossing for the South American. Lloris somehow palmed the header on to the crossbar.
They would not have to wait too long to extend the lead, however, as Coutinho slammed past the Spurs keeper from 25 yards.
Rodgers then had the luxury of protecting Steven Gerrard from the booking that will lead to a two-game suspension, replacing him with Lucas on 70 minutes.
Henderson, who must also have impressed Lewington, made amends for an earlier miss by scoring direct from a free-kick after 75 minutes.
So many questions have been asked of this Liverpool team and a startling aspect of their title challenge is they may never need to answer them all.
First there is the Liverpool squad – you only need to see the bench every week to realise it still does not have enough depth. There is a first XI, a couple of reserves and not much else. It has not mattered.
The inconsistent defence have conceded the same number as Crystal Palace.
Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel have started to improve recently.
Finally, there is the suggestion a lack of experience of a title bid in the final weeks could take its toll. There is little evidence to support that.
Sherwood no doubt echoed the majority view when he suggested he still expected Manchester City to win the league, but with their rivals losing points on Saturday, this was the perfect finish to a potentially defining weekend for Rodgers.
The din greeting the players at the final whistle matched those welcoming each goal. Forthcoming meetings with Chelsea and Manchester City will be epics. (© Daily Telegraph, London)