Liverpool would rather storm the gates of the UEFA Champions League reckoning rather than waiting for its rivals to welcome it inside with open arms.

Liverpool defeated Manchester City 2-1 on Sunday in a Premier League matchup at Anfield. With the win, the Reds simultaneously strengthened their hopes for a top-four finish and banished any sense of doom their UEFA Europa League exit created.

Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho scored spectacular goals in each half for the Reds. Manager Brendan Rodgers gambled by leaving Coutinho and Henderson out of the ill-fated trip to Turkey last week, and it paid off handsomely. The pair delivered dynamic and impactful performances in the win, which set the stage for Liverpool to gain and hold fourth place in the Premier League standings.

Sunday’s success also is a testament to Rodgers’ ability to play the right managerial notes in the most hectic and pivotal moment of the season. Rodgers restored Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana to the starting 11 in addition to Henderson and Coutinho. The fresh legs of those four gave Liverpool extra zip, while holdovers Simon Mignolet, Martin Skrtel, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can, Raheem Sterling and Joe Allen provided stability and mental toughness despite playing all 120 minutes against Besiktas. Manchester City had two extra days’ rest and didn’t have to make a 4,436-mile, round-trip midweek journey to Istanbul, but those twin advantages weren’t apparent Sunday at Anfield.

Liverpool stacked technical and tactical excellence on top of its physical and psychological strength, producing an overall performance that was of a higher standard than what it showed in recent games against Besiktas, Southampton and Crystal Palace. Rodgers’ side not only rose to the level of Manchester City but even surpassed the reigning Premier League champion for large swaths of the game.

Henderson’s goal rewarded the Reds for their fast start after 11 minutes. Intense defensive pressure initially created the chance. Henderson’s quality and bravery finished it off. This was Liverpool at its best.

Sergio Aguero hit the post shortly thereafter, showing Liverpool wouldn’t merely sweep Manchester City aside. Edin Dzeko restored parity in the 25th minute, turning the game into a tactical duel between two positive and balanced teams.

Coutinho has established himself as one of the Premier League’s consistent performers in recent months. The 22-year-old arguably was the standout player in Sunday’s star-studded game, and his superb strike ultimately separated the teams.

Liverpool remains unbeaten in Premier League play in 2015 and hasn’t lost in its last 11 league outings. The Reds’ revival has taken them up to fifth place in the standings after a disastrous start to the season. Liverpool’s win over Manchester City — the last remaining challenger to Chelsea’s quest for domestic supremacy — announces it as a surefire contender for a spot in next season’s Champions League. Upcoming games against third-place Manchester United (on March 22) and fourth-place Arsenal (on April 4) will demonstrate to the world whether the Reds are favorites for one of those prized spots.

Coutinho scores game-winner vs. Man City (GIF) >>

Henderson scores for LFC vs. Man City (GIF) >>

Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@LFC