Manchester: Manchester City reacted with a vengeance to being dethroned as Premier League champions by Liverpool to thrash the Reds 4-0 on Thursday.
City sent a warning shot of their intentions to take the title back next season as Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden all struck before half-time to inflict just Liverpool’s third league defeat in 71 games.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s own goal rounded off a miserable night for Jurgen Klopp’s men, who could have conceded many more in the second half.
The gap at the top of the table between the two remains 20 points, but Liverpool’s charge to better a series of records set by City two seasons ago was stalled on a chastening night for the champions.
City began the evening by giving a guard of honour to their opponents in their first match since ending a 30-year wait to win the league.
The early signs suggested Liverpool would be able to pick off a leaky City defence that has cost them their title.
Mohamed Salah struck the post and Sadio Mane headed wastefully wide as chances came and went for the visitors.
Fireworks were then set off outside the stadium, reportedly by celebrating Liverpool supporters, but City soon set some off themselves on the field with three goals in 20 minutes.
Despite Liverpool’s dominance as a team, De Bruyne has been for many the outstanding individual of the season and the Belgian began to imprint his influence on the game as the visitors struggled to control his movement in the midfield.
De Bruyne’s 13th goal of the season came from the penalty spot on 25 minutes after Joe Gomez pulled Sterling to the ground.
Sterling was suspended by England manager Gareth Southgate after he squared up to Gomez in the canteen on international duty the day after Liverpool’s 3-1 win over City at Anfield earlier in the season.
The City forward wisely did his talking on the pitch this time as he scored for the first time in a competitive match against his old side by turning inside Gomez and sending a shot through the defender’s legs as Liverpool were caught on the counter-attack.
Foden has been hugely impressive since the Premier League’s restart from a three-month layoff and Pep Guardiola’s decision to field the 20-year-old ahead of Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva was fully merited as he and De Bruyne combined beautifully for a third just before the break.
Andy Robertson was sucked in as Foden and De Bruyne played a one-two before the England under-21 international coolly lifted the ball over the advancing Alisson Becker.
But for the Brazilian goalkeeper and some wayward finishing, Liverpool could have been on the end of an embarrassing scoreline early in the second half as Gabriel Jesus fired straight at his international teammate, Sterling saw a shot deflected just wide and Virgil van Dijk cleared off the line from Foden.
There was a touch of fortune when City’s fourth did arrive as De Bruyne again cut the Liverpool defence wide open.
Sterling cut inside, but his shot was heading wide before being turned into his own net by Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Mahrez had a fifth in stoppage time ruled out by a VAR review for handball as City just failed to match the 5-0 scoreline they inflicted on Liverpool at the Etihad in 2017.
But City more than laid down a marker and also showed why they are among the favourites to win the Champions League for the first time when European football returns in August.