When Liverpool lost 7-2 to Aston Villa on 4 October, their ability to defend the Premier League title they won in such style in 2019-20 was questioned.
Their performance at Selhurst Park was an ominous one for those rivals who would like to think they can capitalise on the season’s unusual circumstances to mount a challenge – and who would like to prevent the Reds from winning back-to-back titles for the first time since 1984.
A piece of Christmas history but ‘season is not finished’
Liverpool are now the first side to spend three consecutive Christmases on top of the English league since they achieved the feat from 1978 to 1980.
And the stats make good reading for the Reds – 11 out of the past 15 sides leading the way on 25 December have gone on to win the title.
Liverpool have a five-point lead at the summit of the table after Everton’s win over Arsenal on Saturday.
Manager Jurgen Klopp, though, indicated that this was no time to be getting over-excited.
“I don’t feel satisfaction – I am happy in the moment absolutely because it was a top game but at a time like this it makes no sense to be over the moon about something,” said Klopp.
“The season is not finished. There are a few games to come but we will be ready.”
Klopp is a much happier manager now than he was after that cold October night in the West Midlands.
After the shock defeat by Villa, he said his side had “lost the plot”.
Liverpool became the first reigning champions to concede seven goals in a league game since Sunderland beat Arsenal 7-1 in September 1953.
But since the embarrassment at Villa Park, Klopp’s side have marched up the table. Their phenomenal attacking display at Selhurst Park was a significant statement of intent.
They don’t have the 10-point cushion they enjoyed on Christmas Day 2019 – and Tottenham could reduce their lead to three points when they face Leicester on Sunday. But Liverpool’s lead does mean their rivals are already playing catch-up.
Just how good were Liverpool against Palace?
In short – very.
“We scored wonderful goals in the first half and even more so in the second half,” Klopp said. “We controlled the game and didn’t let Crystal Palace back in, so [it was a] wonderful performance.”
The facts don’t lie. Liverpool dominated possession, had five different scorers and attempted 14 shots to Palace’s five. On BBC Sport’s player rater, no Liverpool man got lower than 7.62.
“We were clinical in front of goal,” added captain Jordan Henderson. “All of the finishes were brilliant. Mo’s [Salah] was brilliant – that last one – and Bobby’s [Firmino] were brilliant. Taki’s [Minamino] too.
“We are focused on what’s important to us – whether that’s the Premier League, the Champions League, the FA Cup, etc. It’s a difficult period for everyone so we need to keep going. We have a few players coming back from injury which is important for us.”
Former England captain Alan Shearer said on Match of the Day: “It was a devastating display of finishing. The appreciation and understanding of what is in and around the players and then the space for others to run it is so intelligent.
“Just sit back and admire Salah’s second goal, it was magnificent from all the forwards on the pitch.”
Ex-Newcastle and Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas added: “There are a lot of players in the Liverpool team that can be rested but the demands and the drive comes from the captain, the leader Jordan Henderson.
“He leads by example and does so much selfless work. If the full-backs go forward and lose the ball, Henderson is in a great position to help out. We give Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson the plaudits for all the assists they get but Henderson does a lot of their work.”
‘We are humiliated by the result’
A manager since 1976, Roy Hodgson has seen enough of football’s highs and lows to maintain a sense of perspective. The Crystal Palace boss is not a man to use words such as “humiliated” lightly.
So the fact that he used that word on Saturday was an indicator of his strength of feeling.
“There is nothing positive I can say,” said Hodgson, who looked a forlorn figure. “We are humiliated by the result. We take it very badly. For most of us in the dressing room, we have not been on the end of a 7-0 defeat.
“We just have to get over it. There is no point dwelling on it and we have to learn lessons.”
The result was Liverpool’s first league victory by a margin of seven or more goals since a 9-0 win over Crystal Palace in September 1989.
Liverpool were top at Christmas that season too. They went on to win the title by nine points.