Liverpool players celebrate goal against Man City. Getty Images

Liverpool struck a huge blow in the Premier League title race as they beat defending champions Manchester City 3-1 to go eight points clear at the top of the table.

Early goals from Fabinho and Mohamed Salah – the former particularly controversial, since Man City may well have had a penalty moments earlier – gave the Reds the dream start, before Sadio Mane’s header extended the lead, with Bernardo Silva’s late strike proving a mere consolation.

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The result sees the Reds’ unbeaten league run stretch to 29 games, and leaves City nine points adrift in fourth heading into the international break.

Jurgen Klopp sprung no surprises with his team selection, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was left out despite his recent good form to allow Georginio Wijnaldum to join Jordan Henderson and Fabinho in the German’s first-choice midfield.

Pep Guardiola did have one up his sleeve through, as Rodrigo was passed fit to play in central midfield, while Benjamin Mendy was left out of the squad altogether, with Angelino starting at left-back.

It was the visitors who began on the front foot, and were screaming for a penalty when the ball struck Trent Alexander-Arnold’s arm, preventing it from running through to Raheem Sterling in a dangerous position.

Sergio Aguero, in particular, was incensed, but play was allowed to go on, and when the ball eventually broke to Fabinho in pretty much Liverpool’s first foray into City territory, he crashed a rasping strike beyond the dive of Claudio Bravo. Anfield held its breath as a brief VAR check was carried out, but it was deemed, dubiously, that Alexander-Arnold’s arm had been in a natural position.

The hosts doubled their lead on 13 minutes when Salah arrived perfectly onto Andy Robertson’s terrific early cross to head back across Bravo and into the far corner. Initially, there was controversy here too, with no replays shown of what looked an extremely tight offside call, but the officials were ultimately proven correct, with John Stones keeping the Egyptian on.

Guardiola slumped in his seat and City looked stunned, their back four all at sea against Liverpool’s rampant frontline and rampaging fullbacks. Angelino, in particular, struggled, but came close to halving the deficit when his deflected effort tickled the outside of the post after a lovely one-two with Kevin De Bruyne, while Aguero twice warmed the palms of Alisson.

Salah’s curler forced Bravo into a full-length diving stop just before the break, while Roberto Firmino was also denied after terrific work from Alexander-Arnold, but it took Liverpool just six minutes of the second half to break the City resistance once more.

This time there was no debate, just a brilliant cross to the back post from Henderson, and reason to criticise Bravo, who should have done more to keep out Mane’s diving header.

City had another penalty shout turned down, this one more reasonably, as Mane’s slight nudge on Sterling sent the England man tumbling, before Aguero came within inches of pulling one back, somehow failing to get anything on De Bruyne’s low cross when a toe would have seen the net bulge.

Soon after, the Argentine’s remarkable record of never having scored at Anfield was preserved when he was replaced by Gabriel Jesus 20 minutes from time, a move that looked almost like a concession from Guardiola, but Bernardo had other ideas, firing home from Angelino’s cut back to give City hope.

The Anfield crowd grew instinctively nervy, and had Jesus managed to get on the end of Sterling’s pass minutes later to make it 3-2, they would have had reason to grow nervier still. But when the final whistle came to end a gripping encounter, it was the home fans who left with belief redoubled.