Three second-half goals saw a rampant Liverpool keep pace with League leaders Manchester City at the top of the Premier League following a tough encounter at Vicarage Road.
Jurgen Klopp rang the changes once more with Dejan Lovren coming in for Joe Gomez, who reported an ankle niggle in training following his exploits in the Nations League. In midfield, captain Jordan Henderson returned to the side though he was not to finish the game thanks to a red card from referee Jon Moss.
The Hornets could have led inside four minutes had it not been for a linesman flag, but it wasn’t long before the Reds took over possession. The chief tactic seemed to be aerial balls played from deeper positions by the full-backs and more than once Ben Foster had to scurry to his line to keep the Liverpool forwards out. The former United keeper also denied Mo Salah twice—once from a through ball over the top and then a header from a corner.
Xherdan Shaqiri was the start of the first half and was forever a thorn in Watford’s side. His unerring ability to shift the play from one side of the pitch to the other led to Watford becoming increasingly overstretched and unable to get out of their half. Despite this, the score remained goalless come the break. Man City already led three-nil at that point in their game at West Ham. The Reds needed a reaction.
And it came. Liverpool were a different prospect in the second period with Sadio Mane becoming more influential as the game went on. However, Watford can feel aggrieved not to be awarded a penalty when Andy Robertson appeared to bring down Will Hughes when the game was still goalless.
Up to that point, the game was more or less prosaic. True, Liverpool had all the play, but with little penetration despite a noted increase in tempo. That ended in the 67th minute when Roberto Firmino played a wonderful ball between the centre and right back onto Sadio Mane. The Senegalese cut the ball back for Mo Salah to pat the ball home.
That goal will be overshadowed in the weeks to come (as the next one is pretty special), but Salah’s instinctive touch was the moment of genius the game needed. Lesser players would have taken their chances with a wild slash at it, but Salah chose to cushion it past a despairing Foster, who was all set to block a powerful shot.
That goal took the stuffing out of Javi Gracia’s men and it was added to nine minutes later by a magnificent right-footed free-kick from Trent Alexander-Arnold. Trent would have probably not taken it had Shaqiri been on the field, but the Swiss international was replaced by James Milner a couple of minutes earlier. He took his chance well though the keeper might have done better.
Liverpool had to last the final eight minutes plus injury time with ten men as Jordan Henderson was shown a second yellow card for a silly foul. The captain was already arguing with the referee and clearly lost his head when he brought down a Watford player to stop a break. He will miss next Sunday’s Merseyside derby. Fabinho came on to steady the midfield in his absence.
Watford sensed blood and attacked with vigour, but were undone once more by a Liverpool counter-attack. Andy Robertson sprinted forward into space as Liverpool broke on the counter before playing a square ball to the unmarked Sadio Mane. He could only shoot at the keeper but, Roberto Firmino gleefully nodded in the ricochet before celebrating with the buoyant Liverpool fans behind the goal.
This was a perfect result for Liverpool. Last season, the Reds drew this fixture 3-3—throwing away two points late on from a poorly defended corner. This time they were afforded few chances. Though Liverpool were occasionally a little ragged at the back today, the difference between last year’s defence and this is marked. Alisson was only called upon to make one save of note, but his marshalling of the back four has resulted in Liverpool best defensive start to a campaign in years.
Man Utd’s draw at home to Crystal Palace means they are now 12 points behind the Reds and one of Chelsea and Tottenham has to drop points as the sides meet at Wembley in the evening kick-off. Arsenal travel to Bournemouth tomorrow. More importantly though, Manchester City—incredible start or not—are still in reach of Jurgen Klopp’s side and today’s margin of victory and professional performance will please the manager no end.
Now all eyes turn to Paris. Jurgen Klopp will hope for more of the same.