James Milner said Liverpool delivered their worst performance of the season against former club Manchester City, despite striking a blow in the Premier League title race with a 1-0 win.
Georginio Wijnaldum's first-half header was enough to seal three points for the Reds at Anfield and keep them in touch with runaway leaders Chelsea.
Liverpool were more composed for much of the game and they held firm in front of a renewed attacking focus from City after the break.
And though dissatisfied with how the game had unfolded tactically, Milner said the grit on display by his team showed they are genuine contenders at the top.
"It was a tough game, they're a top team," Milner told BT Sport.
"It was just about the result, it was arguably one of our worst performances of the season.
"But it was a gutsy performance, great defending from everyone right through the pitch, we ground out the result and we have to do that.
"We didn't execute as we would've liked and kept the ball.
"Credit to them, they stopped us playing, caused us problems and they're a good team.
"You can't always win games with flowing football it's about grinding out the results as well and that's a massive victory for us, you have to win in different ways to do well."
Jurgen Klopp's men now appear to be the team best equipped to carry the fight to Chelsea, who won their 13th consecutive game in the Premier League against Stoke City earlier on Saturday.
"There's a long way to go," Milner added. "But it's pleasing to be up there, we need to concentrate on our business, racking up the wins and improving as a team - which we're doing all the time."