By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Liverpool's spluttering attack burst back to life to help the champions return to winning ways with a commanding 3-1 victory at Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League on Thursday.
Goals from Roberto Firmino, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Sadio Mane capped a dominant display by Juergen Klopp's side whose first league win since a 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace on Dec. 19 restored their place in the top four.
Firmino's effort in first-half stoppage time ended Liverpool's barren run of 482 minutes without a league goal.
Alexander-Arnold doubled their lead in the 47th minute before Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg quickly lashed in his first goal for Spurs to give the hosts hope.
With Tottenham's defence unravelling, Mane struck again for the champions in the 65th minute and there was no coming back for Jose Mourinho's side whose disappointment was compounded by an injury to talisman Harry Kane.
Both sides also had goals ruled out by VAR decisions.
Liverpool's seventh successive win over Spurs in all competitions moved them into fourth spot with 37 points from 20 games, four points behind leaders Manchester City who have played a game less. Tottenham stayed sixth with 33 points.
This was not quite Liverpool back to their best but it was an important statement of intent for Klopp's side that they will not be giving up their title without a fight.
Even with a makeshift central defensive partnership of Jordan Henderson and Joel Matip they were too strong for a Tottenham side who were culpable for all three goals.
"Nothing has really changed, we're the same team we always have been," Alexander-Arnold said.
"We have the same mentality going into games, we respect the opposition. We have the expectation on ourselves that we should win the game and it was a whole performance from the lads."
Liverpool should have ended their drought in the opening minutes when Mane was through on goal but steered his shot wide.
That miss looked costly as Son Heung-min thought he had given Spurs the lead from Kane's pass but his effort was ruled marginally offside by VAR.
While Tottenham looked dangerous on counter-attacks, Liverpool were the more threatening side and they were gifted the opening goal deep into stoppage time.
Mane again got behind Tottenham's defence and prodded the ball across towards Firmino who capitalised on indecision by keeper Hugo Lloris and Eric Dier to tap home.
Tottenham replaced Kane, who twice needed treatment, with Erik Lamela at halftime and Harry Winks also came on for Serge Aurier, but Tottenham's plans were soon in disarray.
Mane was again the creator as he burst into the area and his shot was pushed out by Lloris into the path of Alexander-Arnold to rifle in the rebound with his right foot.
Tottenham responded within a minute from an unlikely source as Hojbjerg sent a swerving effort past Allison from the edge of the area. In a frenetic passage of play, Mohamed Salah belted a shot past Lloris but Tottenham were spared by a VAR check which showed a handball by Firmino in the build-up.
Ten minutes later another Spurs error, this time by central defender Joe Rodon, allowed a low cross to reach Mane who made no mistake.
"It's hard to resist so many defensive individual mistakes -- unless you score four goals against Liverpool," Mourinho said.
"Every time we came back the next mistake was coming."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ed Osmond)