LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Liverpool took advantage of an inept defensive display by Tottenham to cruise to a 4-0 win at Anfield on Sunday and return to the top of the Premier League for the first time since December.
An eighth straight win for Liverpool was never seriously in doubt from the moment Luis Suarez scored his 29th goal of the campaign in the 25th minute, adding to an own-goal by Younes Kaboul inside two minutes.
Philippe Coutinho's low drive in the 55th and Jordan Henderson's free kick, which crept in past a mass of legs in the 75th, finished off Spurs and fuelled the growing conviction inside Anfield — and increasingly across the country — that Liverpool can win a first English league title in 24 years.
Liverpool is two points above Chelsea and Manchester City is a further two points back in third, but with two matches in hand.
"For us, the mantra has always been to focus on the next game, we never get too carried away," Liverpoool manager Brendan Rodgers said. "It is very difficult, there's lots of people dreaming about Liverpool winning the title."
Six straight wins now separate Liverpool from its first English league title since 1990 — and two of its remaining three home games come against Chelsea and City in April. One way or the other, the destiny of the trophy is likely to be settled on Merseyside.
"There is no doubt they understand this is going to be a real tough place to come," said Rodgers, whose team have picked up 43 points from a possible 48 at Anfield. "We love playing here.
"The support today was incredible and that is only going to intensify as the season goes on. It works for us rather than against us."
The Reds are unlikely to find a defense as compliant as Tottenham's, however. Sitting up in the stands, Spurs coach Tim Sherwood put his hands to his face as one mistake after another by his backline gave Liverpool a flying start in the first half, reviving memories of its 5-0 win at White Hart Lane in Dec. 15. That led to Andre Villas-Boas' firing two days later.
This defeat left Tottenham eight points behind fourth-place Arsenal in the race for the final Champions League qualification spot and again exposed its shortcomings in the big matches this season. Spurs has already shipped 11 goals in two matches against City and lost 4-0 at Chelsea this month.
The desperate Kaboul was the biggest culprit at the back and his own-goal after 97 seconds summed up the comical defending. Glen Johnson was set free down the right and his cross was deflected off the heel of Jan Vertonghen onto Kaboul, who unwittingly turned the ball into the net.
Vertonghen lasted 23 minutes before coming off with a knee injury and his replacement, Michael Dawson, made a howler with his first touch in the game, attempting to sidefoot a pass across to Kaboul but instead diverting the ball into the path of Suarez.
The Uruguay international bore down on goal and dragged a left-foot shot across goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and into the bottom corner, making him Liverpool's highest scorer in a single Premier League season.
"With all the best will in the world and all the plans all week goes out the window after the two goals," Sherwood said. "It seemed every mistake we made got punished severely."
There was still time before the break for Suarez to have a header tipped onto the post by Lloris, after Kaboul had been robbed in possession by Raheem Sterling.
Spurs were giving Liverpool time and space to pick out its passes and the third goal had its origins in Liverpool's own area, as the home defense followed Rodgers' mantra of playing it out from the back. Fullback Jon Flanagan ran clear down the left and slipped the ball inside to Coutinho, who ignored Johnson's overlapping run down the right and instead drove a fierce shot into the bottom corner from 25 meters.
That ensured there would be none of the late anxiety that characterized Liverpool's nervy 2-1 win over Sunderland on Wednesday and Henderson's goal added gloss to the score line, his inswinging free kick somehow missing everyone and curling into the far corner.
"We have a wonderful mix of world-class players, young talents from Europe and South America and a load of young British talent here who show that technically they can play and tactically their ideas are very good," Rodgers said. "You see the confidence, there is no anxiety, no pressure. It was great to watch."