Rodriguez has scored seven goals in his last three games
By Sam Sheringham
Maxi Rodriguez scored his second hat-trick in three games as a rampant Liverpool crushed Fulham to boost their hopes of reaching the Europa League.
Rodriguez put Liverpool ahead after 32 seconds, and volleyed a second before Dirk Kuyt made it 3-0 on 16 minutes.
Moussa Dembele gave Fulham hope with a crisp finish from Bobby Zamora's pass.
Rodriguez smashed a spectacular third from 25 yards and Luis Suarez rounded Mark Schwarzer to make it 5-1 before Steve Sidwell fired a late consolation.
It was a sensational display from Liverpool, who have now scored 13 goals in their last three games and have climbed from 12th to fifth in the table since Kenny Dalglish took over from Roy Hodgson in January.
The Reds are two points clear of Tottenham, who play Manchester City on Tuesday and travel to Anfield on Sunday for a game that is effectively a play-off for the Europa League spot.
Dalglish proud of Liverpool players
Whether participating in that competition would be a blessing or a curse for either club is a moot point but the Reds certainly set off like a team determined to secure another season of European football.
Suarez broke clear down the left and advanced into the penalty box before trying to pick out Kuyt.
The low cross was deflected towards goal by Carlos Salcido and although Schwarzer stopped it creeping in at the far post, Rodriguez was on hand to lash into the opposite corner.
Six minutes later, Glen Johnson found space behind Salcido and crossed to the far post, where Rodriguez volleyed low past Schwarzer.
There was a moment of controversy on 14 minutes when a long ball found Suarez bearing down on goal. The irrepressible Uruguayan took a tumble after an apparent push from Brede Hangeland but the officials rejected the visitors' penalty appeals.
Any sense of grievance on Liverpool's part was short-lived as Kuyt received the ball in space on the right and drilled a speculative effort towards the near post, which Schwarzer inexplicably allowed to slip through his fingers to gift the Dutchman a ninth goal in his last eight league games.
Suarez and Rodriguez both missed presentable chances before Clint Dempsey had Fulham's first opportunity of the game just after the half-hour mark - but his low volley from a corner was cleared off the line by Johnson.
Fulham boss Mark Hughes brought on Zamora for Simon Davies at half-time and the change paid dividends as the home side began the second period in the ascendancy.
First Zamora had a goal-bound header blocked and then Dempsey fired narrowly over the bar from the edge of the area.
Hughes admits to 'key errors'
The goal, after 57 minutes, was nothing less than Fulham deserved as Zamora's lay-off teed up Dembele for a powerful side-footed finish into the bottom corner.
Fulham briefly threatened a comeback but Rodriguez's superb drive from outside the area guaranteed Liverpool the points and allowed the Argentine to depart to a standing ovation.
Five minutes later, substitute Jonjo Shelvey threaded a pinpoint pass through to Suarez, who coolly took the ball around the goalkeeper and tapped in.
Despite being on the receiving end of a fearful hammering, Fulham refused to throw in the towel and Sidwell's superb chest down and half-volley from the edge of the box would have graced any fixture.
As it was, the goal merely reduced the deficit to three and there was still time for Suarez, Shelvey and Kuyt to go close to adding a sixth.
That would simply have added further gloss to a superb display in a game in which captain Jamie Carragher made his 666th appearance to go second behind Ian Callaghan (857) in the Reds' all-time list.
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