The ingredients for a disappointment were all there: a discouraging loss to Manchester United a week prior, a quietly resurgent Watford riding the new manager bounce and weather conditions at Anfield more reminiscent of Christmas than spring—these typically have been the components of the sort of banana peel that has tripped Liverpool sides more than once over the years.
The snow swirling around Anfield at kickoff reflected the mood of many Liverpool supporters in the lead up to clash with the Hornets, heads filled with headlines anxiously labeling the game a “must-win” in a suddenly tightening race for the top four. It would appear however, that these fans had forgotten that one Mohamed Salah was in attendance, narratives be damned.
As with virtually every lower league side who has ventured to the red half of Merseyside this season, Watford found themselves under fire from the gate as Liverpool laid siege to the Anfield Road end. A goal looked more likely than not every time the boys in Red burst forward, with Watford manager Javi Gracia’s strategy of pressing high with a back three immediately appearing a catastrophically wrong decision.
However, rather than with words, the tale of the match is best told visually, so aesthetically-pleasing were the majority of the goals in what turned out to be a 5-0 demolition. Stunning individual efforts and flowing team moves have defined these Jürgen Klopp teams at Liverpool but today was one of those days that will have made many Reds fans sit back in astonishment.
Salah was of course the one to kick things off in the fourth minute, putting a bona fide Premier League defender in Miguel Britos firmly on his back side in the process of slotting past Watford keeper Orestis Karnezis at the near post.
Here is footage of the skill leading up to the goal:
Although in all honesty, you could barely tell the difference:
The second just before halftime was almost as lovely. Sadio Mané, who was much more comfortable in a slightly deeper playmaking role on the day than last week at United, linked up with the scintillating Andrew Robertson over the course of five touches of the ball to put the full back in acres of space down the left side. The Scotsman then proceeded to place an exquisite first time ball into the window of uncertainty across the edge of the six-yard box for the Egyptian winger to prod home for a rare right-footed brace.
Number three mere minutes into the second half might have been the pick of the lot. Released down the right by James Milner, Salah (again) managed to evade Britos outside the box. the winger put in a ball that was slightly behind the onrushing Roberto Firmino leading to one of the goals of the season as the Brazilian inexplicably reached behind his body in a mid-air backheel past the keeper.
The skill required for the irrepressible striker on the move to get such an outrageous flick on a ball coming in with that amount of pace is almost hard to fathom.
With two goals and an assist already to his name, Salah then decided that it was time to secure his first Liverpool hat trick with 14 minutes still to go. Capitalizing on some great work from Mané on the wing, the forward managed to wriggle away from four Watford defenders in that inimitable way of his before somehow scuffling past Karnezis yet again to the joy of the Kop.
Salah’s fourth and Liverpool’s fifth felt almost disrespectful, with Reds’ #11 registering his 36th strike of the campaign from a spilled save well after the visitors had curled up in the fetal position under a resounding refrain of You’ll Never Walk Alone. 5-0. Fears emphatically dispatched and viewers left in awe at the performance witnessed.
Salah now level with Robbie Fowler as the highest ever LFC goal scorer in a single season since the PL era began.— Joel Rabinowitz (@joel_archie) March 17, 2018
What looked to be a worrying back injury saw Emre Can substituted early in the match in what will be concern in the run in. Watford also had some spirited moments in the first half when the likes of the talented Roberto Pereyra came close to dragging his side back into a then-still contestable tie, while a nitpicker would also note that Liverpool rarely left third gear for large portions of the match.
Nevertheless, the scoreline should provide proof that in building around the magical Salah, Jürgen Klopp is assembling the pieces of something with the potential to be great in the years to come. And it truly is the irrepressible winger who is the difference in Liverpool’s prospects this season. There is still the business end of the season to play, and of course a prominent World Cup campaign will be needed to break the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo stranglehold on the Balon d’Or come voting time. But with his reign over his home of Egypt firmly secure, it will be Liverpool’s own King In The North who will surely have his say.