ADAM Lallana scored twice and Divock Origi found the net for the fifth consecutive game as Liverpool climbed to second in the Premier League thanks to a comfortable 3-0 victory at Middlesbrough.
Jurgen Klopp’s controversial decision to drop goalkeeper Loris Karius proved to be fully justified with Simon Mignolet keeping a clean sheet on his return to the side as Liverpool won at the Riverside Stadium for the first time in 14 years to remain six points behind leaders Chelsea on Wednesday.
Reds boss Klopp left himself open to accusations of bowing to pundit power as the German seemingly contradicting himself following his public fall-out with Gary and Phil Neville over their criticism of his summer signing.
Despite mounting a stringent defence of the 23-year-old, he nevertheless benched the former Mainz stopper in the wake of conceding six goals in the previous two games, which had seen Liverpool drop five points in their title challenge.
Mignolet, who had most recently featured in the League Cup victory over Leeds at the end of November, looked assured in his first top flight appearance since the 2-1 victory at Chelsea in mid-September.
But in truth the 28-year-old had little to do in securing a comfortable shut-out against the division’s lowest scorers, who remain in relegation danger.
Lallana broke the deadlock in the 29th minute as the hosts were stretched to breaking point by Nathaniel Clyne.
Brazilian defender Fabio gave the England full-back too much space, and when his cross made it all the way to the back post, there was Lallana arriving ahead of his marker Adam Forshaw to head beyond Victor Valdes.
– Scrambling –
The Liverpool midfielder showed the more positive side of his game two minutes before the break as he almost doubled his side’s lead.
Again Boro were caught out by a pacy counter-attack, this time down the left. Mane burst through to let fly from inside the area and his low shot beat Valdes, only to hit the foot of the post.
Origi was the first to react to the rebound, and his raking shot grazed the side-netting with Valdes scrambling across goal to cover.
It proved to be a similar pattern after the break, as Valdes saved at his near post to deny the increasingly influential Mane.
Middlesbrough defender Ben Gibson looked to use his arm to block the Senegal midfielder’s shot soon after, but referee Jon Moss was unmoved as the Reds closed in on the decisive second goal.
It arrived on the hour as Georginio Wijnaldum released Lallana into the box for the midfielder’s inviting low cross to be swept home from close range by Origi, whose prolific scoring run is the best by a Liverpool player since Daniel Sturridge scored in eight consecutive matches at the outset of 2014.
Origi returned the favour in the 69th minute for Lallana’s ninth goal of the season for club and country, the former Southampton trainee securing the points by firing home the forward’s cross at the far post with Middlesbrough again caught short by a swift counter.