Under the command of a newly appointed Premier League-winning manager in Claudio Ranieri, Watford hosted Liverpool at the Vicarage on Saturday lunchtime, and suffered a battering that was probably hard to endure for the onlookers on the stands.
Sadio Mane latched onto a beautiful pass from Mohamed Salah in the ninth minute and opened the scoring. Assisted by James Milner, Roberto Fimino found himself in the right time and place to add the second goal in the 37th, and made use of a lucky rebound in the 52nd for the third. Salah produced another piece of magic just two minutes later, and Firmino completed his hat-trick to set the final score at 0-5 in injury time.
Liverpool have obviously taken the challenge of proving their doubters wrong very seriously this season. They were widely criticized for an apparent lack of transfer activity in the summer market, when they signed just Ibrahima Konate to bolster their centre-back ranks, severely depleted through injuries last term. Many believe that this squad simply hasn’t got the depth to compete against the likes of Manchester City, United or Chelsea, but these claims have so far been completely wide of the mark.
For this game, manager Jurgen Klopp couldn’t count on goalkeeper Alisson Becker and midfielder Fabinho – both finished their international duties with Brazil in the night between Thursday and Friday UK time, and it just wasn’t wise to fly them back for the Vicarage visit given the short time in between. Caoimhin Kelleher stepped between the posts and Milner came into the midfield, playing the role usually performed by Jordan Henderson as the captain filled in for Fabinho in front of the back line.
Diogo Jota, who had arguably pushed Firmino out of the starting XI early in the season, was left on the bench. Thiago Alcantara missed out through injury, as did Harvey Elliott who started the season extremely well.
Nothing of that disturbed Liverpool in this match. They were completely on top of their game, controlling the flow of the contest completely for a very large part of its course, and had they scored more, it wouldn’t have been undeserved.
The only undefeated team the Premier League, the Merseysiders have returned to the top of the table, if only for a few hours. Chelsea could overtake them again later in the day by winning at the Brenford Community Stadium.
The Salah-Mane connection
Mane and Salah were both on target against Manchester City in the previous round, and they produced very similar goals again.
Salah’s assist for Mane was just as brilliant as the finish by the Senegalese, and his goal was out of this world, matched perhaps only by that which he scored against the defending champions. For more than a decade the football world talked only about Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo when discussing the best on the planet, but the Egyptian is now definitely a part of that conversation.
Salah shares the top spot of the Premier League’s goalscoring chart for the season with Jamie Vardy – both have seven goals so far, though Liverpool fans probably won’t be too bothered with the Leicester City icon as his seventh came in a Foxes’ win over Manchester United.
It was Salah’s 104th personal goal in the English top flight, 102nd in a Liverpool shirt.
Meanwhile, Mane has often been criticized lately for being ‘out of form’, but that description is nowhere near the mark at the moment. He has only two goals less than Salah in the league this season, and this was a landmark one – his 100th. Even more impressively, he has become only the third player ever to score 100 Premier League goals without a single one from the penalty spot.
It seems Messi knew what he was talking about in 2019 when he said it was a shame that Mane finished third in the Ballon d’Or race.
But from a Liverpool point of view, the most important aspect of it all is that Salah and Mane are working well together, combining to great effect as they continuously wreak havoc for the opposition defences.
Much like Mane, Firmino has been proving his doubters wrong with fine performances this season, and this hat-trick will certainly do much for his confidence. Some will maybe point out that all three goals came from open-goal chances, but the Brazilian has shown a real knack for getting into such positions and definitely deserved his goals.
The Watford woes
It’s an interesting situation for the Hornets at the moment. They won back their place in the Premier League for the season and their obvious aim it to keep hold of it. However, it looks a daunting task right now.
As things stand, Watford are not in the relegation zone. They entered this match in 15th place, four points ahead of Burnley who topped it. Therefore, their decision to sack Xisco Munoz after the previous round may seem strange at first glance, but it becomes much clearer when their fixture list is taken into account.
The early season schedule looked rather reasonable, and they obviously hoped to form a solid stash of points by now and enter the upcoming difficult period with something to cushion the impending blows. Ranieri may have not been too keen on facing Liverpool for his first game in charge, but this was only the beginning. Watford will face Everton, Arsenal, Manchester United, Leicester City, Chelsea and Manchester City, all in their next seven league matches. By the time that run is over – early December – they’re likely to be where they desperately don’t want to be: deep in the zone.
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