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CRYSTAL CLEAR; Champions guarantee top spot at Christmas as best team definitely comes out on top.

Byline: IAN DOYLE at Selhurst Park ian.doyle@reachplc.com @IanDoyleSport

The best team definitely won this one. And won't Jose Mourinho and the rest of the Premier League know it?

Having had their title credentials curiously questioned in defeat of nearest rivals Tottenham Hotspur in midweek, Liverpool delivered a statement that will reverberate not only around parts of North London.

From the Etihad through to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and beyond, there would have been a collective shudder as, one by one, the goals flew beyond beleaguered Crystal Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita.

Not that any shot-stopper would have had much hope in repelling an irresistible, ruthless, rampant Liverpool.

This, in such thrilling, devastating fashion, is why Jurgen Klopp's side remain the Premier League's standard bearers, one of the finest performances of his tenure.

And it was an historic afternoon, too, the 7-0 triumph the biggestever away top-flight win in the club's history.

Given Palace were also the opponents for the Reds' largest home win in the top division - the 9-0 thumping of 1989 - there was a neat symmetry to the new landmark.

Never before, though, can Liverpool have scored so many picture-book strikes in one fixture, sufficient to constitute a goal of the season competition between themselves.

Will there be a sense of exorcising the ghosts of Villa Park, where the Reds shipped seven goals just 10 weeks ago? Possibly.

Liverpool, though, are now firmly look forward while the rest of the Premier League scrambles for position behind them, top for the third Christmas in succession.

How those watching at home would have revelled in the manner the Reds emphatically addressed away form that had previously garnered just seven points from six games this season.

And of equal importance was the benefit gained from a number of hugely encouraging individual performances.

Klopp's rotation was entirely justified. If the return of Joel Matip at centre-back was expected, the recall of Naby Keita in midfield and, particularly, Takumi Minamino to the forward line raised some eyebrows, not least with Mohamed Salah benched for the first time in the Premier League this term.

Come the end, Minamino - in the left wing role where he impressed during the tail end of last season - had his first league goal for Liverpool while Keita, on his 50th appearance for the club, grew in confidence and played a part in two strikes.

Elsewhere, Sadio Mane emphatically ended a run of nine games without a goal, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made his long-awaited return as a late substitute and Salah's 33-minute cameo was enough to move him on to 13 goals in 13 Premier League outings this season.

The standout, however, was Roberto Firmino, continuing his improved form by setting up a goal for Mane before starting and ending a superb breakaway to end an 11-month wait for an away strike and later adding another with a similarly sumptuous effort.

Given the mammoth margin of victory, it seems peculiar to also single out a defender for praise.

But the outcome could have been significantly different but for the efforts of Fabinho during a lengthy first-half spell in which Palace forwards Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze were too often allowed to run at the visiting defence.

That Liverpool stand clear at the summit without long-term absentees Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez owes much to the calming influence of Fabinho, who is forging a strong partnership with the again-solid Joel Matip. Andy

Robertson, too, merits a mention for another effervescent outing.

So, to those goals.

The visitors only had to wait three minutes for the first, a pass into the inside right channel held up well inside the box by Mane before the Senegalese rolled possession to Minamino, who neatly manoeuvred the ball away from his marker before finishing into the bottom corner.

The second, somewhat against the run of play, came on 35 minutes. After a Keita pass to the edge of the area prompted a scramble for possession as Palace sought to clear, Firmino retained composure amid the maelstrom to slip a cute pass into the area for Mane to control with his left foot, turn away from his marker and lash into the bottom corner with his right.

Mane has now scored in seven successive Premier League matches against Palace. Only Robin van Persie, with eight against Stoke City, has had a longer run.

The killer third goal came a minute before the break and was the best of the match, a blistering counter-attack that saw Firmino take a pass from Alexander-Arnold and then find Robertson on the left, who raided forward before crossing inside the area for Firmino to take a touch and prod home.

It was four seven minutes into the second half, Keita finding Alexander-Arnold inside the right edge of the area with the ball then laid into the path of Jordan Henderson to curl home from 20 yards.

Salah then took over. The substitute's magnificent pass released Firmino to lift the ball over Guaita for the fifth on 68 minutes, and nine minutes from the end he nodded in after Matip's head had met an Alexander-Arnold corner.

And there was just enough time for the Egyptian to take pass from Oxlade-Chamberlain, proceed to the edge of the area and unleash a trademark left-foot curler into the top corner.

Remarkably, the brace means Salah has 27 goals in 38 appearances against London clubs, the forward having declared earlier in the day he wants to say at Liverpool to help set yet more astonishing landmarks.

Clearly, the Premier League and world champions remains the place to be. Happy Christmas, everyone.

Ratings by IAN DOYLE

ALISSON BECKER 7 Clutched one header from Schlupp and swept up when required. Enjoyed watching the goals go in at the other end.

TRENT A-ARNOLD 7 Very difficult first half and was constantly exposed by the pace of Eze and Zaha. Much, much more solid after the interval.

JOEL MATIP 8 Dropped deeper when Palace looked to counter. Completely unruffled and could claim assist late on.

FABINHO 9 Superb challenges and interceptions. Positional sense, mobility and physicality make him excellent centre-back.

ANDY ROBERTSON 9 First half was kept defensively busy. Cross created the third on the counter and enjoyed his second half immensely.

JORDAN HENDERSON 8 Cajoled his team-mates throughout but didn't use the ball as well as usual first half before eventually finding his range.

GINI WIJNALDUM 7 Unable to stamp his authority before break. Liverpool's lead, though, allowed him to work his way into the game.

NABY KEITA 7 Like his fellow midfielders, didn't have it his own way but refused to hide and grew in confidence, playing a part in two goals.

SADIO MANE 8 Pressed hard on the right, showed composure to create the opener for

Minamino and brilliant turn for second.

ROBERTO FIRMINO 9 Cute pass released Mane for second, started and ended superb counter-attack for the third, then notched another. Impressive.

TAKUMI MINAMINO 8 Took his first Premier League goal very well and dangerous when pressing, and almost grabbed another second half. Lively.

SUBS: MOHAMED SALAH (for Mane 57) Superb Dalglish-esque pass created the fifth for Firmino and then notched two. 8 CURTIS JONES (for Wijnaldum 69) Rather enjoyed Firmino's second goal as he waited to come on. 7 ALEX OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN (for Firmino 75) Long-awaited first appearance of the season. 7 Subs not used: Adrian, Origi, Rhys Williams, Phillips, Kelleher, Neco Williams.

CRYSTAL PALACE: Guaita, Clyne, Kouyate (Tomkins 63), Cahill, van Aanholt, Schlupp, Milivojevic, McArthur (Ridewald 75), Eze (Batshuayi 69), Zaha, Ayew. Subs: Butland Ward, Dann, Townsend, McCarthy, Mitchell. GOALS: Minamino 3, Mane 35, Firmino 44, 68, Henderson 52, Salah 81, 84.

BOOKINGS: Clyne. REFEREE: Jonathan Moss.

CAPTION(S):

| On a high... Roberto Firmino celebrates

| Minamino opens the scoring and (below) Mane hits the second, Firmino slides in the third and Henderson strikes the fourth
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:IAN DOYLE at Selhurst Park ian.doyle@reachplc.com @IanDoyleSport
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 20, 2020
Words:1310
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