Liverpool 6 Mané 27’, 60’, Coutinho 30’, Can 43, Firmino 57’, Wijnaldum 90+1 Watford 1 Janmaat 75’
Just under 13 months ago, Jürgen Norbert Klopp took the reins of a team that was bang-average and mired in 10th place in the Premier League. He told us all “We need to turn from doubters to believers. Now.” He won our hearts, but not our skeptical minds. Spectacular wins against Chelsea and Manchester City were offset by crushing, impotent defeats to Crystal Palace, Newcastle, and Watford. As the season wore on, exciting runs in the League Cup and the Europa League ended in whimpers, not bangs. Klopp said this was a process, and fans bought in wholesale. But even the most optimistic among us wouldn’t have guessed that Liverpool would be sitting alone at the top of the table after 11 games.
Prior to the game, Lucas Leiva got a surprise call-up, filling in for an ill Dejan Lovren. Although the long-time servant was here to shore up the defense, two of the best early chances fell to him. First, he managed to get on the end of a cross into the box, sending it wide of the far post, and a few minutes later the ball fell to his feet off a corner but he could not beat the keeper from close range. If only Lucas made the score sheet, today’s game could have been considered perfect!
Although Liverpool created a few chances in the early going, with Philippe Coutinho looking the most likely to add his name to the score sheet. Shortly after Lucas’s failed effort, he banged a shot off the woodwork from an offside position, and then moments later narrowly missed beating Watford goalkeeper Gomes at the near post, with his shot going just wide of the target. The Reds now had their tails up, and you could feel a goal was imminent. Phil then tried playing the provider, setting Firmino through on goal, but his Brazilian teammate could not put the shot on target.
Two minutes later, Coutinho would get his assist with a goal straight off the training ground. The Magician played a 1-2 with Milner on a short corner, and then whipped in a cross that found the head of Sadio Mané, whose glancing header was enough to beat Gomes. And three minutes after that first goal, Coutinho would add a goal to his assist, with an unstoppable low strike from the top of the box.
Gomes appeared to have tweaked his knee attempting to save Coutinho’s shot, and things went from bad to worse for Watford as they had to make an unplanned early sub. Either that or he wasn’t keen on being on the wrong side of the firing range all day and called it quits.
Things settled down for the last few minutes of the first half, and Watford probably thought they could get into the break at 2-0 and regroup. They were wrong. Adam Lallana collected the ball around midfield and streaked down the right side. Emre Can went completely unmarked at the back post, and Lallana’s inch-perfect pass made for an-all-too-easy headed goal for the German international. His goal marked the second in as many games, and at this rate it will be difficult for Gini Wijnaldum to displace him.
After the break, Liverpool were not content to sit back and invite pressure, and they added two more goals by the hour mark. The fourth came courtesy of another Adam Lallana assist, whose low cross was put on a platter for Roberto Firmino to poke home from close range. Moments later, Firmino latched on to a through ball from Jordan Henderson, but instead of taking on his defender he held it up in the box, before coolly playing in Mané for his second and Liverpool’s fifth.
The second half saw Loris Karius called into action more times than the lopsided scoreline would suggest. The visitors actually managed 8 shots on target, and Karius was at full-stretch for several of his 7 saves. However, the young number one couldn’t keep them all out, as Daryl Janmaat finally pulled one back for Watford on the 75th minute.
Despite the 4-goal lead, Liverpool still never really took their foot of the gas. They continued pressing forward, and substituted Daniel Sturridge seemed determined to break his Premier League scoring drought. The England international rattled the cross bar not once, but twice, including a fantastic long-range curler with his favored left-foot. His efforts would set up the last goal in the first minute of stoppage time when his shot was palmed into the path of Wijnaldum, who took a touch to collect it, and then slotted it home for his first goal with the Reds.
The win returns Liverpool to the top of the table for the first time since falling to Chelsea with three games to go in 2013/14. There’s still a lot of football left to be played, and the top 4 teams are separated by a mere 2 points. But for all of those doubters that are still out there, seeing Liverpool top the table for the next two weeks should give everyone a glimmer of hope and belief.
Regardless of whether Liverpool can continue this pace—and Kloppo certainly isn’t interested in title talk—the boss has managed to completely transform this team into one of the best, and one of the most entertaining to watch in the Premier League.