Liverpool cemented their status as serious contenders for the top four with an emphatic win over Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. With Andre Villas-Boas's side coming under mounting criticism for their inability to produce attractive football or shut their opponents down, the Reds added fuel to the fire with a 5-0 hammering that left Spurs chasing shadows all evening.
Tottenham's first half performance was completely and utterly inept. Within the first minute, a ridiculous piece of defending had given the Reds a chance to score the opener, with stand-in centre back Etienne Capoue producing a not-quite clearance that allowed Luis Suarez to slip in Philippe Coutinho. If not for a poor, snatched finish, Spurs would have gone 1-0 down then and there.
Not that it took very long for the visitors to get on the scoresheet. Raheem Sterling was causing serious problems down the right flank, but the goal came from the middle. Suarez tried to slip Jordan Henderson in through the centre, and although Michael Dawson managed to make the block, he failed to clear the ball, allowing Henderson to get a foot in. Suarez then ran onto possession, wriggled through another pair of defenders, and slotted past Hugo Lloris.
Tottenham's attacking players weren't entirely without merit, but they couldn't retain possession well enough to protect those behind them, and Liverpool were looking like a scoring threat whenever they went forward. Lloris saved with his heels after Suarez was allowed to run clean through, and Coutinho rattled the crossbar with a tremendous volley from the edge of the box.
An injury to Sando (replaced by Lewis Holtby) on the half hour mark singularly failed to improve the hosts' day, and there was more calamity to come. Lloris very nearly handed Liverpool their second goal when he challenged Suarez just past the edge of his box, mis-hit his header and allowed the striker to scurry onto the ball. It took an excellent recovery save and then a last-ditch block from Dawson to keep Suarez at bay.
Another goal was inevitable, and Henderson duly provided one in the 40th minute. A long diagonal from Sterling allowed Coutinho to knock the ball down to the former Sunderland man, and although Lloris managed to block both Henderson's initial shot and Suarez's follow-up, the loose ball wasn't dealt with and Henderson slotted home from eight yards with a very well-taken shot.
Roberto Soldado thought he'd pulled one back shortly after Henderson's strike when he took advantage of a Manadou Sakho error, shoved Simon Mignolet off the ball and rolled into the empty net, but Jonathan Moss quite sensibly ruled the goal out for said shove.
Spurs came out of the opening half lucky to be down by two and knowing it would take a herculean effort to get back into the match. In the opening five minutes, they twice had the opportunity to spark their comeback (and take advantage of some luck when Sakho's point-blank header smashed against the post rather than in) only for Soldado to smash well over on both occasions.
The hosts were actually playing football, though, which was a positive sign for all involved. And slowly they started putting genuine pressure on Mignolet's goal. Soldado had a legitimate penalty shout turned down by Moss after he was hauled down via what looked like a Martin Skrtel rugby tackle before Aaron Lennon had a venomous shot turned
But just when it seemed as though Tottenham were turning things around, disaster struck. Paulinho waved his foot far too high, catching Suarez's right nipple rather than the football, and the Liverpool captain duly transmogrified into a writhing heap of agony. Moss produced a deserved red, and Spurs' faintly-glimmering hopes evaporated.
John Flanagan added to Liverpool's lead with a brilliant finish from Luis Suarez's cross, the unmarked fullback smashing in off the crossbar to make it 3-0 in the 75th minute. Sterling and Coutinho both wasted chances to make it four, with the former's poor touch allowing Lloris to claim a one-on-one and the latter falling over for no apparent reason.
Suarez, however, had no intention of showing his hosts mercy, beating the goalkeeper with a deft lob after Spurs' high line had imploded for about the tenth time. By this point, White Hart Lane was half empty, which meant they were also spared the embarrassment of seeing Sterling get Liverpool's fifth when he was played through by the irrepressible Suarez.
Three minutes of injury time later, and Moss's whistle put Tottenham out of their misery. Might Daniel Levy do the same for Andre Villas-Boas?
Tottenham Hotspur starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Hugo Lloris; Kyle Naughton (Zeki Fryers 45'), Michael Dawson, Etienne Capoue, Kyle Walker; Sandro (Lewis Holtby 30'), Moussa Dembele (Andros Townsend 61'); Nacer Chadli, Paulinho, Aaron Lennon; Roberto Soldado.
Liverpool starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Simon Mignolet; John Flanagan, Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson; Joe Allen, Lucas Leiva (Luis Alberto 79'); Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho , Jordan Henderson; Luis Suarez.
Goals: Suarez 19' 84', Henderson 40', Flanagan 75', Sterling 89'.