Premier League champions Liverpool welcomed the return of fans to Anfield for the first time since March with an emphatic victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Mohamed Salah gave Liverpool the lead in the first half after Wolves defender Conor Coady misjudged a long ball from Jordan Henderson.
Georginio Wijnaldum added a second after the break when he curled a precise shot into the top-right corner from long range before Joel Matip’s thumping header and Nelson Semedo’s scrambled own goal completed the scoring.
Wolves were largely contained by the home side but had a glimpse of hope when referee Craig Pawson awarded them a penalty in the first half when he adjudged Sadio Mane to have fouled former Liverpool player Coady.
However he overturned his decision after reviewing the incident on the video assistant referee monitor, where it was clear there had been no contact.
The win keeps Liverpool level on points with league leaders Tottenham, who beat Arsenal 2-0 in the north London derby earlier on Sunday.
Wolves are in 10th although only two points behind fifth-placed Manchester United, who have a game in hand.
Champions win in style in front of fans
Liverpool fans returned to Anfield for the first time in nine months and – albeit only 2,000 of them – were able to show their appreciation for a team that had been crowned Premier League champions during that period.
They chanted “bring on the champions” minutes before kick-off and raised their scarves for a quieter-than-usual chorus of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
The beaming smile on Jurgen Klopp’s face as he watched supporters take their seats during the warm-up was still in place hours later after his side produced an authoritative performance that kept them in touch with Jose Mourinho’s side.
Left-back Andy Robertson was a menace throughout for Wolves defender Semedo and he looked the most likely to engineer an opening in the first 20 minutes.
Sure enough, it was his fizzed cross that Mane headed just over as the dominant home side pressed for a breakthrough.
However it was skipper Henderson’s searching ball that Coady chested into the path of Salah and allowed the Egypt forward to take one touch before firing past visiting keeper Rui Patricio.
The goal was celebrated with predictable elation by those able to snare a ticket for the Kop and they were entertained regularly during the first half, with Roberto Firmino’s nutmeg and Mane’s ‘Cruyff turn’ two of the highlights.
Liverpool were even more dominant after the break and secured victory when Wijnaldum’s wonderful strike provided a two-goal cushion but the biggest roar came when centre-back Matip’s header rippled the net in front of the fans.
Trent Alexander-Arnold returned from injury as a substitute to set up the fourth, Wolves defender Semedo bundling the ball into his own net with Mane poised to score.
Those supporters who were denied a victory parade when Liverpool lifted the long-awaited Premier League trophy in July were treated to a performance worthy of champions against a Wolves side who have proved an awkward opponent in recent encounters.
They thanked Klopp’s men for a fine performance with another rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in the final seconds of stoppage time before cheering the manager’s familiar fist pumps at full time.
Coady in limelight as Wolves miss Jimenez
Wolves travelled to Anfield without key striker Raul Jimenez, who fractured his skull in a horrific collision with Arsenal defender David Luiz last week.
The players warmed up with shirts showing their support for Jimenez and his absence was felt in Wolves’ play.
The visitors lacked the penetration the Mexico forward gives them and on the one occasion the pacey Adama Traore got free – escaping the otherwise immaculate Fabinho – in the first half he could not pick out Pedro Neto at the back post.
The Spain winger’s switch to the opposite wing in the second half failed to make a difference either as Liverpool doubled up on him successfully.
Reds goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, making his Premier League debut, did have some work to do and impressed with his handling.
He tipped Daniel Podence’s clever chip around the post in the first half and then made a comfortable save from Leander Dendoncker’s header in the second period.
Wolves rarely looked like ending their poor run against Liverpool, though, as they suffered their eighth consecutive league defeat to the Reds, conceding 19 goals and scoring just twice in that run.
‘I had goosebumps’ – what they said
"They were so happy to see us, we were so happy to see them." ❤️ pic.twitter.com/jxTEIq7lqk
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 6, 2020
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: “The game, the atmosphere, it was so nice. I had goosebumps. [The fans] started ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ – really nice. I never knew it could feel that good.
“This started in February and we were waiting to get normality back. Normality is good – I don’t think we appreciated it as much. It was very, very touching.
“Wolves couldn’t get into the game tonight and I think that was because of the way my boys played. It was a really, good high-level performance.”
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo: “It was definitely a tough night. We could have done many, many things different – before the game, during the game.
“We didn’t have enough of the ball. We didn’t deal well with the pressing of Liverpool. We were organised until the moment of the first goal.
“We didn’t perform well, Liverpool performed better than us. That is a reflection of the performance on the pitch. It was not a good performance. We were organised but not as organised in the second half.”
WHAT. A. GOAL. ⚽️
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 6, 2020
The best of the stats
Liverpool have won 31 of their last 32 home league games (drawing the other game), scoring 93 goals while conceding 25 in this time.
Since Liverpool’s first match after Virgil van Dijk’s injury against Everton (Ajax in October), the Reds have conceded just six goals in 11 games in all competitions, keeping six clean sheets in the process.
This was Wolves’ joint-heaviest margin of defeat in a Premier League game since their return to the division in 2018 (4-0 v West Ham in September).
Salah has 52 Premier League goals at Anfield for Liverpool – only Lionel Messi at the Camp Nou (63) and Robert Lewandowski at the Allianz Arena (59) have scored more at a single venue in the big-five European leagues since the Egyptian joined the Reds in 2017.
Today was the 17th time Mo Salah has both scored and assisted a goal in the same Premier League game for Liverpool; since 2017-18, this is five more times than any other player in the competition (Son Heung-min, 12).
Of Liverpool midfielder Wijnaldum’s 26 Premier League goals, 23 have come at home (88.5%), the highest ratio scored on home soil of any player with 20+ goals in the competition’s history.
At 22 years and 13 days, Caoimhin Kelleher became the third-youngest Liverpool keeper to keep a Premier League clean sheet, after Scott Carson (19y 211d) and Chris Kirkland (21y 234d) – and the youngest to do so on his first start for the Reds.
In his 87 Premier League appearances, Wolves’ former Liverpool player Conor Coady has only made three errors directly leading to a goal; two of those have come on Merseyside (v Everton at Goodison in September 2019 and this game against Liverpool at Anfield).
Liverpool play Midtjylland in the Champions League on Wednesday, 9 December (17:55 GMT kick-off), before returning to Premier League action on Sunday, 13 December at Fulham.
Wolves welcome Aston Villa in their next league match on Saturday, 12 December (12:30 GMT).
BOSS ❤️ pic.twitter.com/S2A3iZaYWn
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 6, 2020