YOU can’t win league titles in December, but you can lay down a powerful marker.

In condemning Middlesbrough to their heaviest defeat of the season on Wednesday night, Liverpool delivered an attacking masterclass that suggests they are more than capable of playing a major role in the title race.

It doesn’t matter too much about defensive deficiencies when you can attack as effectively as this.

With Divock Origi leading the line with pace and power, Sadio Mane drifting here, there and everywhere to trouble the Boro defence and Adam Lallana surging from midfield to score two goals, this was a Liverpool display that was significantly superior to anything else Middlesbrough have faced this season.

So while Aitor Karanka was understandably disappointed with his side’s second defeat in the space of four days, and must be growing increasingly alarmed with a goalscoring record that sees Oldham Athletic as the only club in the whole of the Premier League and Football League to have scored fewer goals than the Teessiders, the Spaniard was fulsome in his praise for the Reds.

Sometimes, you have to admit you have been beaten by the better team. And while Chelsea might boast a six-point lead at the top of the table, there aren’t many teams better than Liverpool at the moment.

“I can’t say anything bad about my players,” said Karanka. “They have given everything for 90 minutes, running and fighting, but Liverpool made it so difficult for us.

“Like Chelsea, I think they are the really strong candidates to win the league. We have played all the top teams - and they are as good as any of them.

“We were more aggressive in the first half, but in the second half it was impossible. Liverpool were much better than us. Their intensity, their quality on the ball, everything.

“Even when they were winning 2-0, they kept the same intensity. They passed with the same speed and won the ball back with the same aggression.”

Liverpool’s excellence makes it hard to be too critical of Middlesbrough’s performance, but the Teessiders have now failed to win five of their last six matches, and perhaps more alarmingly, have failed to score in three of their last five home games.

They were outclassed in the second half in particular last night, and while their fate will not be determined by how they fare against the likes of Liverpool, a cursory glance at the league table is sufficient to underline the importance of Saturday’s home game with Swansea City, the side directly below them.

Are Boro capable of posing an increased attacking threat against the Swans? Having beaten Bournemouth and Hull in recent weeks, they desperately need a third positive performance against another of the sides in their ‘mini-league’.

“My thoughts right now are that we have lost against one of the best teams in the country,” said Karanka, who will assess Calum Chambers later today after the defender left the field nursing a shoulder problem. “It is always difficult against teams like this.

“We tried very hard and, in the first half, we tried to put them under more high pressure, but we knew it would be difficult, they use the ball so well. We know we have a really tough game on Saturday now and will prepare for that.”

Boro received some support from Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, who was impressed with the Teessiders’ intensity, even if he felt the eventual result was right.

“Middlesbrough had their moments, especially with (Adama) Traore, where we had to defend with three, four or five players,” said Klopp. “That was more intense than it should have been.

“At moments it was a little too intense to be in possession all the time, but we could have scored more and 3-0 was the right result.”

Klopp opted to drop goalkeeper Loris Karius in the wake of his weekend mistakes against West Ham, but insisted his decision was not the result of outside influences.

“I know how strong Loris Karius is,” he said. “Unfortunately, he could not show it in the last one, two or three games – that is not important. I’m not interested in public pressure or something. But I’m interested in the boy, and there’s no reason to push him through this situation.”