Liverpool hit four as City's defensive shortcomings are ruthlessly exposed
Liverpool produced a stunning performance as they blew title favourites Manchester City away with a 4-1 win at the Etihad Stadium.
On what proved a chastening night for Raheem Sterling against his old club, Liverpool enjoyed a whirlwind start, with an own goal from Eliaquim Mangala and strikes from Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino inside 32 minutes.
Sergio Aguero marked his return from injury with a superb effort to reduce the arrears, but Martin Skrtel secured three Barclays Premier League points for the visitors nine minutes from time.
Liverpool's performance was some statement as they continue to build momentum under new boss Jurgen Klopp, while City were simply run ragged.
With Daniel Sturridge not deemed fit enough to start, Klopp named a side without a recognised striker as he also left Christian Benteke on the bench.
But, with Firmino playing in an advanced role in a front three with Coutinho and Adam Lallana, Liverpool were energetic and hard-working in attack.
They immediately set about City, who looked all at sea at the back and were sloppy in possession.
City were without their influential captain Vincent Kompany because of injury, and his absence was again keenly felt, but manager Manuel Pellegrini also opted to leave in-form Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho on the bench.
Pellegrini's decision may have been influenced by the pair's recent international exertions in South America, but the result was a clumsy and exposed central defensive partnership of Mangala and Martin Demichelis.
Two players not involved in the international action, Coutinho and Firmino, took great delight in exposing their flaws.
Just seven minutes had gone when Coutinho robbed Bacary Sagna on the City right and burst forward to slip in Firmino. Mangala managed to get in the way as the Brazilian pulled the ball back looking for his countryman, but the Frenchman got in a tangle and could not prevent himself scoring at the wrong end.
City struggled to recover and moments later Jesus Navas gave the ball away to Coutinho, but James Milner, on his return to the ground he left last summer, blasted over.
City contributed to their own downfall again as Liverpool grabbed their second after 23 minutes. This time Firmino seized on a poor header by Demichelis and played in Coutinho for a simple tap-in.
The Liverpool fans then took further great delight as a promising City attack broke down at the feet of Sterling.
The visitors continued to press and struck again after Joe Hart had initially saved a powerful long-range effort from Coutinho. City were slow to respond as Liverpool recovered the loose ball and Emre Can left the hosts standing with a neat back-heel. Coutinho raced through and coolly teed up Firmino.
Rarely have City looked so exposed, and it could have got even worse as Firmino was first denied by Hart and then shot narrowly wide.
There was finally a City response just before the interval as Aguero found the net with an exquisite dipping shot from outside the area.
But the Reds did not let it affect their game and Hart saved brilliantly with his feet from Firmino as they started the second half with the same intensity.
Sterling broke clear for City, but opted to pass inside to Aguero and his delayed shot was well saved by Simon Mignolet.
Despite that chance, City could not impose their will. Aguero bowed out after 66 minutes, while Liverpool freshened up their attack by sending Benteke on.
The Begian might have done better after being put clear late on, as he hesitated and Hart saved.
But Liverpool put the game out of reach from the resulting corner as the ball dropped kindly for Sktrel and the defender lashed in a ferocious shot.
Sterling's day ended on a sour note as he failed to turn in the ball from in front of goal after Mignolet parried an effort from Fabian Delph.