LONDON – Mohamed Salah was inevitably on the score-sheet as Liverpool took full advantage of the inactivity of their top-four rivals to thrash West Ham United 4-1 at Anfield and provisionally move into second in the Premier League.
With leaders Manchester City facing Arsenal in the League Cup final on Sunday, when Manchester United host Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur travel to Crystal Palace in the league, Jurgen Klopp’s free scorers topped 100 goals for the season in their 40th match.
Emre Can, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané also netted in another Liverpool goal-rush that moved them 15 points behind Pep Guardiola’s City.
At the bottom of the table, the future of West Bromwich Albion manager Alan Pardew looks increasingly bleak after their 2-1 defeat at home to relegation rivals Huddersfield Town.
Swansea City crashed 4-1 at Brighton and Hove Albion, and Bournemouth came from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Newcastle United.
Liverpool’s win was not quite as routine as the scoreline suggested, with West Ham occasionally threatening on another nerve-tingling Anfield afternoon, although David Moyes’ long wait for a first win at the ground continues.
Salah scored for the sixth successive game in all competitions and his goal took him level with Harry Kane at the top of the Premier League scoring charts with 23 this season.
But Can was equally influential in Liverpool’s win, heading the opener and laying on a superb through pass for Firmino to score Liverpool’s third before Mané chipped in with a fourth goal in two games.
“It is difficult to be top, Manchester City are too far away, but of course we want to finish second,” said the German, whose six league goals represent the best haul of his Liverpool career which could be in its final season as his contract expires at the end of the campaign.
Elsewhere, West Brom’s defeat will add to the pressure on manager Pardew, whose side are now seven points off safety.
Rajiv van La Parra and Steve Mounie scored for Huddersfield, whose win moved them three points up the table, one point ahead of Newcastle.
Rafa Benitez’s side looked to be guaranteed back-to-back victories for the first time since September after Dwight Gayle ended his recent goal drought by scoring twice before the interval.
Yet Adam Smith and former Newcastle midfielder Dan Gosling completed an astonishing comeback by one of the league’s never-say-die specialists.
“It’s another point that nudges us towards where we want to be – every one could be vital at the end of the season,” said Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe.
Swansea also scored late at Brighton, but Lewis Dunk’s own goal proved academic with the home side already 3-0 up.
Dutchman Juergen Locadia’s goal on his Premier League debut completed the rout as Swansea dropped back into the relegation zone, just ahead of Stoke City, who drew 1-1 with Leicester City.
It would have been better for Paul Lambert’s side had keeper Jack Butland not parried the ball into his own net when under no obvious pressure, a howler made all the more embarrassing by the presence of former Stoke, Leicester and England legend Peter Shilton in the stands.
Manager Lambert refused to criticise his keeper, whom he described as “the best in Britain”, although such an obvious howler will do little to help Butland secure the England jersey for the World Cup.
At Turf Moor, Southampton’s Manolo Gabbiadini scored a 90th-minute equaliser as the visitors secured a nerve-jangling 1-1 draw at Burnley, who still await their first win of the year.
Everton remained in ninth place, but still only seven points above the relegation zone after a 1-0 defeat at Watford, who moved up to 10th in a tangled bottom half.
Troy Deeney scored Watford’s late winner at Vicarage Road.