Three goals in just over 20 minutes helped Liverpool to their 10th victory of the Premier League season and maintained their unbeaten start – overpowering an impressive Watford side with a 3-0 win at Vicarage Road.
The hosts began the game at an excellent tempo and the stadium was rocking when Gerard Deulofeu put the ball into the net just two minutes in, but celebrations were halted due to an offside flag.
Watford’s structure and pressing halted any attempted Liverpool advances, before a string of saves from either goalkeeper – most notably Alisson’s to deny Roberto Pereyra as he flew to his left – saw the first half end in rather entertaining, end-to-end fashion.
There were claims for a Hornets penalty when Will Hughes went down under an apparent challenge from Andrew Robertson, but replays showed that referee Jonathan Moss was correct in waving away the vociferous home appeals.
Jurgen Klopp’s men began to turn the screw and found the opening goal in the 67th minute, when some great intelligence from Roberto Firmino allowed him to drop deep and send through Sadio Mane on the left-side. The Senegalese’s cutback was met with the boot of Mohamed Salah as he side-footed the ball between Ben Foster’s legs on the volley.
A Trent Alexander-Arnold special inside the game’s final quarter of an hour gave the Reds the breathing space that they needed as the youngster – fresh off his first goal for England – stepped up to bend a superb free-kick into the net past a motionless Foster in the Watford goal.
Captain Jordan Henderson received his marching orders when he picked up a second yellow card with just under 10 minutes to play, after he had been flirting with an early shower for some time in the match.
Thankfully for Klopp that dismissal did not derail his team’s charge to the three points as a swift counter-attack allowed Firmino to head home from Mane’s saved shot late on, all but securing another victory.
Pragmatism continues to shine
This was a game that previous Liverpool teams would have failed to see out, or given away late in a flurry of disorganisation and insipid defending, but under Klopp in 2018-19 they are an entirely new proposition.
Watford were fantastic and well in the game until the second goal went in, but Liverpool defended them superbly well under the marshalling of Virgil van Dijk, to ensure that they were able to continue to dictate the game on their terms.
The newly implemented 4-2-3-1 system seems to have given Klopp’s side the best of both worlds, creating the double pivot in midfield to screen the back four in tandem, while allowing for Xherdan Shaqiri to join a four-pronged attack.
The depth in the squad meant that Joe Gomez’s absence was not dearly missed as Dejan Lovren stepped in with a commanding centre-half’s display, and enabled Fabinho to come off the bench to sure the midfield after the sending off.
Even under Klopp in time’s gone by, errant substitutions and changes to a back five at the end of games while sacrificing the attacking guile that earned them a lead with 10 minutes to play has come back to bite them, but with the players they have now there is no longer a necessity for that.
The best of the rest
It has become apparent in recent Premier League seasons that there is very much a top six in the league, with all else falling into place behind them, leading to the notion of seventh place being ‘best of the rest.’
This season, Watford are proving their worth under Javi Gracia, and with disappointing performances from Manchester United in recent weeks they could well push themselves and break the barrier into the best six teams in the country.
In this game they were thoroughly impressive and the 3-0 score line was incredibly harsh on them, as they not only stayed in the contest but took it to Liverpool with their sound structure and tenacity – both without and without the ball.
In Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure they have a quality, stable midfield duo that is able to bring defence to attack and back again, with their power running and tackling in the engine room setting the tone for what happens both in front of and behind.
Despite the concession of three goals pointing to the contrary, the back four – and in particular Craig Cathcart – were resolute and kept one of the most potent attacks in the European game at bay for over an hour.
With positive substitutions of Isaac Success and Andre Gray entering the fray, the ambition in this Hornets side was truly demonstrated, and if they can continue to perform in this way consistently in the Premier League, they could be in for a big upturn in their fortunes as a football club.
The arch nemesis returns
After booting five goals in the two Premier League fixtures last season against Watford – which included a debut goal and a mesmerising four goal haul at Anfield – Salah was at it again in his third meeting with the Hornets.
The devastation of that return game at Anfield was not quite replicated on this occasion, however, it was the Egyptian that tipped the game in the visitors’ favour with the opening goal, while his pace and quality was an ever present thorn in the Watford side.
After receiving criticism seemingly because he had not already scored the 32 goals that he did last season, Salah has gone about his business and finds himself with seven goals in 13 league games, with only Sergio Aguero’s eight strikes besting him.
With the busy winter period coming up, including a multitude of important league games as well as the final two Champions League group fixtures and the impending commencement of the FA Cup, Salah will continue to be vital to any success Liverpool have on the pitch.