LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Liverpool is back where Manchester United is far from reaching: Top of the Premier League.
To know why there is such a deficit in quality now between English football’s most successful clubs, just look at how Liverpool’s forwards tormented United in a 4-0 rout on Tuesday.
It wasn’t just Mohamed Salah scoring twice at Anfield, following a hat trick in the 5-0 humiliation in the reverse fixture.
Salah also assisted Luiz Diaz’s opener. Salah’s first was set up by Sadio Mané. And Mané’s goal was provided by Diaz’s pass.
All before Salah compounded another night of misery for United with a chipped finish for his second provided by Diaz’s replacement — Diogo Jota.
“They make our life easier in the midfield and at the back,” Salah said. “They always try to give us the ball in a one-against-one situation so it makes our life much easier.”
A glorious night for Liverpool ended with four fist-pumps by manager Jürgen Klopp in front of the Kop. For the four goals? And maybe for the four trophies the season could yet end with.
The League Cup has already been collected and there’s an FA Cup final meeting with Chelsea next month. Before then there’s a Champions League semifinal clash with Villarreal. And there is the hope Manchester City does not regain first spot in the Premier League, although the two-point lead could be wiped out by the champions beating Brighton on Wednesday.
Regaining the Premier League trophy from City in the remaining six games would see Liverpool match United on a record 20 English titles.
“They just showed what kind of caliber they are,” United interim manager Ralf Rangnick said. “We are far away from that.”
United is struggling to secure one of the four Champions League qualification places, let alone win its first title since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
“Liverpool is fighting for the title,” United midfielder Bruno Fernandes said. “We are not fighting for nothing.”
The 80-year-old Ferguson will have been regretting making the trip across northwest England to watch United being torn apart after only five minutes.
United’s five-man defense — featuring Phil Jones making his second league appearance of the season — was unpicked by a sweeping break launched from inside Liverpool’s penalty area.
By the time the ball reached the halfway line, Mané had Salah running forward to release a pass to. Then Diaz arrived unmarked centrally to strike beyond goalkeeper David de Gea.
“That was not part of the game plan to be that high up and to try to press high up and concede a transitional moment,” Rangnick said. “Our left side was completely open.”
All the animosity that exists between these rivals was put aside when the clock hit seven minutes and solidarity was shown with Cristiano Ronaldo following the death of his new-born son.
A chant of “Viva Ronaldo” was started by the United fans. Their Liverpool counterparts launched a rendition of their anthem — “You’ll Never Walk Alone” — and applause to back United’s No. 7 who missed the game to grieve with his family and surviving new-born twin.
Ronaldo’s absence was not the reason for United’s struggles.
It was another passing move that led to Liverpool’s second. Receiving a pass from Joel Matip, Mané lofted the ball to Salah, who had time to take it past Diego Dalot before slotting low into the net in the 22nd minute.
Perhaps the only surprise at halftime was United limited the damage to 2-0.
There was more of a visiting threat after the break, sparked by Jadon Sancho as the replacement for Jones. But the formation change by Rangnick, the interim manager following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s firing in November, could not stir a comeback.
Any home anxiety was eased once Mané netted in the 68th. Andrew Robertson gained possession and ran with the ball unchallenged before feeding Diaz to cut-back to Mané to finish.
It would get worse for United.
Hannibal Mejbri replaced Anthony Elanga and within a minute he was giving the ball away. Robertson pounced and fed Jota whose pass to Salah allowed the Egypt forward to make it nine goals in six games against United, via a deflection off visiting defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
“It was a top performance from us here and away also,” Salah said. “Hopefully carry on like this.”