Liverpool 5 - 0 Watford
Liverpool: Mané 9’, 19’, Origi 66’, van Dijk 79’, 82’
After a series of disappointing draws and uninspiring performances, fans hoped that the Reds would show signs of their old selves again on Wednesday night, and oh boy did the lads oblige, putting on a show for the Anfield crowd as they swept aside seventh-placed Watford.
With Roberto Firmino left out of the squad with an ankle problem, Divock Origi was recalled to the lineup, making his third start of the season, while Trent Alexander-Arnold returned to the XI for only the second time in six weeks.
The Reds came out of the traps firing on all cylinders, and nearly won an early opener in a fluky manner, as James Milner closed down Ben Foster and slid in as the goalkeeper made a clearance. The ball struck Milner’s leg, but to Foster’s relief, bounced straight up in the air and into his arms rather than ricocheting into the back of the net.
It mattered little, however, and the hosts would take the lead before ten minutes were up. Alexander-Arnold was handed the ball out wide, and with the Watford defenders late to close him down, picked out central striker for the night, Sadio Mané — who had snuck in between the central defenders — with a spectacular cross for the Senegalese attacker to head home.
The fullback was in sensational form, and five minute later found himself in the opposition box at the end of a fast break, but his chipped cross towards Andrew Robertson at the far post was picked out by Foster. Minutes later Alexander-Arnold was on the touchline again, and his driven cross cannoned off both a defender and the goalkeeper before bouncing out of play, a foot wide of the post.
On twenty minutes, a 60-yard run from Mohamed Salah ended with the Egyptian doubling back and laying the ball off to his fullback, who again picked out Mané in the box. The former Southampton man’s first touch took him away from goal, but with Foster rushing out to close him down, Mané chipped the goalkeeper with the cheekiest backheel of 2019, putting the Reds two goals up.
The game slowed down somewhat, but on the half hour mark, that man Alexander-Arnold lined up another cross, somehow evading each of the four team-mates that were crashing the Watford six-yard box. The visitors were struggling to get anything going, and the Reds looked deadly every time they broke forward into space.
Five minutes later, a long ball over the top found Salah, who shrugged off Adam Masina and struck a right-footed effort from a narrow angle off both the goalkeeper’s hand and the post. The rebound was hacked away in front of a lurking Mané, but Milner weaved his way back into the box and got another shot off, again denied by Foster between the Watford sticks.
With five minutes left in the half, the visitors eventually found some luck, and Gerard Deulofeu took advantage of Robertson’s too-deep positioning, driving a low cross into the Reds box, but a sliding Joël Matip was on hand to intercept and clear. A minute later Deulofeu caused trouble again, this time finding Troy Deeney in the box, but the Watford captain’s attempted backheel deflected off his own standing leg and out over the touchline.
The hosts responded instantly, and were unlucky the best attacking move of the night was not capped off with a goal. An Alexander-Arnold crossfield ball found Origi in space and the Belgian cut inside and laid it off to Salah, who flicked a gorgeous first-touch chip over the top to the streaking Robertson. The Scotsman had a wide open Mané to aim for six yards out, but his cross was just too far in front of the former Southampton man, and flew harmlessly past Foster’s far post.
In injury time another counter attack and delicious piece of interplay saw Mané slip the ball through for Salah, but again the pass was over hit by inches, allowing Foster to gather.
There was no attempt to slow things down in the second half, and Origi immediately set the standard, skinning Daryl Janmaat and cutting the ball back for Robertson, but the Scotsman scoffed his first-time finish and the ball rolled harmlessly across the box.
A minute later, Origi struck a gorgeous crossfield ball to Salah, who drive into the box and attempted a chip, but again, Foster was on hand to deny the Egyptian, palming the ball across the touchline for a corner. Watford then went close after a set piece, as Matip’s attempted clearance fell straight to Craig Cathcart, but the Cameroonian made amends by getting in the way of the subsequent shot.
With half an hour to go, Origi picked out Mané in the box, but the forward’s turn and shot was blocked for a corner. Three minutes later, Origi took matters into his own hands, cutting in from the left and burying a driven effort at the near post, leaving Foster helpless.
Three goals to the good, the Reds began to slow things down, in preparation for the weekend’s Merseyside derby, and Jordan Henderson replaced Milner. Watford responded by forcing Alisson to make a pair of saves, first doing well to get down quickly, denying a well-struck shot from a narrow angle by Andre Gray, then rushing off his line to deny the same man from point-blank range after a cleared set-piece found its way back into the area.
Adam Lallana replaced the har-trick hunting Mané with ten minutes to go, and immediately earned a free kick. Alexander-Arnold stepped up and delivered a peach of a serve to Virgil van Dijk, who thumped home an emphatic header from six yards out. Minutes later, an identical set piece was cleared by the defense, but Andy Robertson lifted the clearance back into the area, and van Dijk popped up with another header, taking the final score to 5-0.
A tremendous response to critics claiming the Reds were cracking under the pressure of the title race, and Jürgen Klopp’s men were outstanding all over the pitch on the night. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson assisted all five goals, and the two fullbacks have now accumulated 14 assists between them this season.
Their rampant forays into the opposition area were only made possible by the control displayed by Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho, however, and much of the credit must go to the midfielders and their ability to both recover possession and progress the ball up the pitch.
Everton at Goodison Park are up next, with the Blues looking at an opportunity to get one over their archrivals and toppling their title bid in the process. If Klopp can get another performance like this out his boys, though, the Toffees won’t get to have much of a say in the matter.