Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho underlined his importance to the Reds ahead of the transfer window with a fine individual display in a comfortable 5-0 win over Premier League strugglers Swansea City on Tuesday.
The Brazil international scored his 12th goal of the season with a fine curling effort and provided an assist for compatriot Roberto Firmino.
Coutinho, who was strongly linked with a move to Barcelona in the build-up to the season, has enjoyed his most prolific goalscoring month in a Liverpool shirt, finding the net seven times in December.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s determination saw him score Liverpool’s third after half-time before Firmino and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finished from close range.
Liverpool’s victory ensured they remain in the thick of the battle for the Champions League places in fourth spot — five points behind second-placed Manchester United.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp had made four changes from the side that drew 3-3 against Arsenal.
Joel Matip and Alexander-Arnold came into the defence, while Georginio Wijnaldum and Oxlade-Chamberlain both started in midfield.
It did not take Liverpool long to assert their authority against the Premier League’s bottom club.
The tireless Firmino dispossessed Jordan Ayew in midfield and rolled the ball into the path of Mohamed Salah who in turn fed Coutinho just outside the penalty area.
Coutinho, restored to an advanced role in Liverpool’s attacking triumvirate, cut inside onto his right foot and curled a sumptuous shot into the top right corner of the net, which Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski could only stand and admire.
Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who retained his place despite a high-profile blunder against Arsenal, was called into action shortly afterwards.
A deep cross picked out Ayew at the back post and the Swansea striker’s header brought a smart save out of the Belgium international.
With the atmosphere at Anfield flat and Swansea happy to pack men behind the ball, the remainder of the first half lacked any real intensity.
Liverpool continued to pose the greater threat with Emre Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Firmino all trying their luck from distance to no avail.
The Reds squandered a golden chance to add to their advantage on the stroke of half-time when Salah nabbed the ball in midfield and put Firmino through on goal, only for the Liverpool forward to drag his shot wide.
– Goal glut –
Six minutes into the second half Firmino made amends as he found the net and Liverpool effectively ended the game as a contest.
Coutinho, in his 200th appearance for Liverpool, turned supplier — his delivery from a free-kick picked out his compatriot’s run to the back post and Firmino sweetly volleyed home from close range.
Swansea’s Oliver McBurnie, on his first Premier League start, cut an increasingly isolated figure in attack and was withdrawn just after the hour for on-loan Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham.
However, it was Liverpool who posed the greater threat in the box and two goals in the space of 90 seconds enabled the hosts to cruise through the remainder of the game.
First, Alexander-Arnold netted his first Premier League goal then Firmino was able to tap into an empty net after Salah had unselfishly squared the ball to him inside the six-yard box.
Oxlade-Chamberlain completed the rout late on when he capitalised on some shambolic Swansea defending and lifted the ball into the top corner of the net with an angled finish.