Dec 26 (Reuters) - Liverpool treated their fans to some Christmas cheer with a 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle United at Anfield on Wednesday, extending their lead at the top of the table.
The win put Liverpool on 51 points at the halfway point in the season, six ahead of Tottenham Hotspur who hammered Bournemouth 5-0, and seven clear of champions Manchester City who lost 2-1 at Leicester City.
Returning to the club he led to the Champions League title in 2005, Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez picked his team with defence in mind, stringing five players across the back.
But defender Jamaal Lascelles inadvertently teed Dejan Lovren up for the opening goal, carelessly heading an attempted clearance into the path of the Liverpool centre back, who cracked home a fine half-volley in the 11th minute.
Newcastle managed to hold firm until halftime but within minutes of the restart they were two down as Mohamed Salah scored his 13th league goal of the season from the penalty spot following an innocuous foul on him by Paul Dummett.
Liverpool’s enormous pressure threatened to give them a third goal at any moment, and it came when Xherdan Shaqiri stabbed home Trent Alexander-Arnold’s low cross from close range in the 79th minute. Fabinho made it 4-0 by heading home Salah’s corner.
Liverpool’s fans burst into song as news reached the Anfield stands that Manchester City had lost at Leicester, giving the Merseysiders the Christmas gift they wanted as they chase a first league title since 1990.
“We just focused on ourselves and it’s game by game for us. Every game is a final for us,” Lovren said.
“We need to keep this momentum and after the next couple of games we will see where we are. Every game now matters,” he added.
With little money available to spend in the upcoming transfer window, Benitez seemed barely able to conceal his frustration at Newcastle’s situation.
“Obviously, we play against a very good team but there are two key moments in the game,” the Spanish coach said.
“The first goal we made a mistake, and the second goal (was) a soft penalty that gave them control. For us, it was very difficult to react,” he added.
Benitez must lift his side ahead of their visit to Watford on Saturday while Liverpool host Arsenal later on the same day.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor, editing by Ed Osmond