LONDON – Rafael Benitez has little doubt Liverpool is ready to end a 28-year wait to win the English title.
While Liverpool coach Juergen Klopp refused to get carried away after his team surged six points clear at the top of the Premier League with a 4-0 victory over Newcastle on Wednesday, Benitez was certain his former club had the quality to stay in first place for the rest of the season.
“They showed they are good enough to win the title,” Benitez said after watching his Newcastle side being dismantled at Anfield Stadium. “They have a very good team but a very good squad. When you want to win a league title you need to be consistent and they can do it.”
Defending champion Manchester City, which started the day in second position, suffered its second surprise loss in four days when it was beaten at Leicester 2-1.
Tottenham followed up a 6-2 romp at Everton on Sunday with another big win as a 5-0 thrashing of Bournemouth took the London club one point ahead of Manchester City in the standings after 19 rounds, the midway point of the season.
Paul Pogba grabbed two goals to help interim coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrate his first home match in charge of sixth-placed Manchester United with a 3-1 victory against bottom club Huddersfield.
Eden Hazard scored his 100th and 101st goals for the club as Chelsea won at Watford 2-1, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang netted his 13th league goal in Arsenal’s 1-1 draw at Brighton.
Fulham climbed off the foot of the standings by drawing with Wolverhampton 1-1. A double from Lucas Digne led Everton to win at Burnley 5-1 and Crystal Palace, which beat Manchester City on Saturday, drew with Cardiff 0-0.
Newcastle last won in the league at Liverpool in 1994, and its latest chance was damaged as early as the 11th minute thanks to a striker’s finish from defender Dejan Lovren.
Three minutes after the break, Paul Dummett hauled down Mohamed Salah in the box and Liverpool’s top scorer bagged his sixth goal in five matches by converting the penalty.
Xherdan Shaqiri made it 3-0 with 11 minutes to go, then substitute Fabinho bundled home a corner as the home team kept its 12th clean sheet of the campaign, the same number it achieved when last winning the title in 1990.
Klopp, however, played down the significance of Liverpool’s six-point lead.
“That means nothing,” he said. “I had no idea how any other teams were playing. Afterwards I got the results and I can say it didn’t do a lot for me. It is just information. It’s good we have six more points, but that is pretty much all.”
Manchester City recalled Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne after Saturday’s shock defeat at home to Crystal Palace but it had little effect as Pep Guardiola’s men lost again at Leicester.
Bernardo Silva gave the visitors a 14th-minute lead before Leicester, which caused an upset of its own at the weekend by winning at Chelsea 1-0, rallied with goals from Marc Albrighton and Roberto Pereira.
To add to City’s troubles, defender Fabian Delph was sent off for a bad tackle near the end.
“The reality is we have lost three in four,” Guardiola said. “We have made an incredible amount of points at this stage and if we can get the same, or more, in the second half of the season then we are fighting to win the championship.
“But at the moment, the reality is two teams are better than us.”
Elsewhere, two goals by Son Heung-min and one apiece from Christian Eriksen, Lucas Moura and Harry Kane helped Tottenham outclass Bournemouth 5-0 and record an eighth win in nine league games.
Just like Klopp, however, Tottenham coach Mauricio Pochettino refused to get overly excited: “It doesn’t mean too much to us to be second or third, or first, I think the most important thing is where you finish in May.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5