Liverpool 3 Crystal Palace 1
Liverpool’s return to the top of the Premier League was confirmed by an impressive first-half performance which saw Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge steal the show again.
The pair had dispelled suggestions they were not entirely compatible as a front two with all the goals in the 3-1 win at Sunderland last week.
This was more of the same as they scored the Reds’ first two, which were followed by a Steven Gerrard penalty for his 99th Premier League goal, in another 3-1 success.
It took the strike duo’s tally when both on the pitch at the same time to 16 goals, averaging a goal less than every 70 minutes.
Individually their statistics are formidable, together they are devastating.
Suarez has 19 goals in his last 22 games, while Sturridge has 19 in 24 games since joining in January, including eight in nine matches this season.
Sturridge’s form would seem to make him a certain starter for England’s important World Cup qualifying double-header next week injury permitting.
He missed the last two internationals a month ago, coincidentally when Liverpool last went to the top of the table, with a thigh injury and minor concerns were raised about his fitness when he fell awkwardly in the first half, even though he managed to play 87 minutes.
Sturridge was watched by England coach Roy Hodgson, who had dashed down the M62 after watching Manchester City’s earlier victory over Everton.
Sat nearby was Kenny Dalglish, whose return to the club in as non-executive director 17 months after he was sacked to be replaced by Brendan Rodgers.
Part of his remit is an advisory role but on this evidence there will not be much he can tell his successor after five wins in his opening seven league matches. Substitute Dwight Gayle’s 77th-minute consolation had no impact on this one.
Liverpool were up and running after 14 minutes when Victor Moses’ cross-field run delivered the ball to Suarez who instinctively rolled it into the path of the overlapping Jose Enrique.
The Spaniard knew exactly what to do, getting to the byline and cutting back to Suarez, who improvised brilliantly as he fell to the ground under pressure from Jason Puncheon, hooking the ball home while on his way down on one knee.
Within three minutes Liverpool had doubled their lead, with Suarez and Enrique playing a minor part this time.
The Reds left-back tried to pick out the Uruguayan with a long pass out of defence and, with Adrian Mariappa coming out to challenge, the ball went over their heads and put Sturridge in one-on-one with Damien Delaney in the inside-left channel.
Sturridge changed directions three times on his way into the penalty area, leaving his marker all at sea, with the final switch giving the England striker just enough room to fire an angled shot across Julian Speroni and inside the far post.
Liverpool have never lost a Premier League home game having led by two goals, winning a remarkable 311 of 313 and, despite the odd chance falling Palace’s way, that record was never likely to be threatened.
The Enrique, Suarez, Sturridge triumvirate was in overdrive as another incisive move cut open the Palace defence and only the outstretched foot of Delaney prevented Sturridge sliding home.
Even when Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel took each other out going for the same ball to put Jimmy Kebe through, Kolo Toure swept up in the six-yard area to prevent the first shot going in and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet saved Puncheon’s follow-up.
Sakho’s good fortune continued when he sliced just wide of his own post after Mignolet failed to deal with low left-wing cross.
The match was over as a contest in the 38th minute when left-back Dean Moxey’s pull on Raheem Sterling, starting his first league match since January in place of the suspended Lucas Leiva, was spotted by assistant referee Richard West.
Referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot and Gerrard, making his 638th appearance to replace Tommy Smith in seventh place in the club’s all-time list, stroked home.
The sight of Rodgers taking his seat in the dug-out before his side had even emerged for the second half told its own story.
Palace had a better second half and were eventually rewarded with a goal after taking advantage of Liverpool’s frailties at set-pieces.
Half-time substitutes Jose Campana and Gayle combined with the former curling in a free-kick from out wide on the left and the latter touching it in.
Sturridge could have had his second when he hit a post late on and England will hope he can carry that form on to the international stage.