If the performance came from Watford, the points went to Liverpool. They invariably do. It is 16 consecutive league wins at Anfield and 16 victories in 17 top-flight matches this season. They boast a 17-point lead over Manchester City and head to the Fifa Club World Cup in enviable form.
Mohamed Salah's brace had a depressing predictability for Watford – the Egyptian has eight goals in five meetings with them – and marked a return to form. He has scored in his last three games and the manner of those goals, whether the outrageous strike from narrowest of angles against RB Salzburg to a shot bent from way outside the far post to nestle in the net and a back-heel flick on Saturday, are signs Salah has regained the audacity confidence produces. His strikes were stylish ways to celebrate Jurgen Klopp's new five-year contract. "We scored sensational goals," smiled the German.
And yet this scarcely looked a game between top and bottom. Both belied their billing. Liverpool were not at their most fluent. They were distracted, with the usually flawless Virgil van Dijk almost scoring a comical own goal after a breakdown of communication with Alisson. They were fortunate, with Gerard Deulofeu’s corner hitting the post. “This was not an off-day,” Klopp countered. “Just a difficult game.”
Nor did Watford appear doomed to the Championship. “It is doable,” said manager Nigel Pearson of his survival mission. “It is scant reward we leave with nothing.”
He made an instant impact in his first game in charge. It was not really reflected in the result although Watford, who had let in 16 goals in their three previous trips to Anfield, acquitted themselves better. Yet the most telling element came in their shape. “We were disciplined,” Pearson added. “Really well organised,” praised Klopp. Pearson’s training-ground work was apparent as Watford were expertly configured in two banks of four; they became the first team in three years to prevent Liverpool from registering a shot in a league game before the 22nd minute.
Yet they were caught on the counter-attack after their own corner as a glorious goal emerged from the sterility. Each of Liverpool’s feared front three was involved, with Roberto Firmino hooking the ball to Sadio Mane, who released Salah. He skipped away from Kiko Femenia before unleashing a curler.
He belatedly completed the scoring with a back-heeled flick from another move involving three forwards. Mane delivered the cutback, the substitute Divock Origi miscued his shot, but straight to Salah. They thought they had scored a second sooner courtesy of Mane’s bullet header; the goal was ruled out via VAR. It felt a sequel to Firmino’s armpit offside at Aston Villa.
Both Salah and Firmino were guilty of poor touches when sent clear on goal. The Brazilian also directed a tame effort at Ben Foster. Klopp nevertheless alighted on the difference between the teams. “We had chances and we scored goals,” he said. “They had chances and they didn’t score. It is one reason they are in the situation they are in.”
Watford could lament that a scuffed shot led to a Liverpool goal. They miscued two fine chances of their own, through Abdoulaye Doucoure, surprisingly deployed as a No 10, and Ismaila Sarr, with no such dividend. They were emblematic moments for a struggling side. Watford remain the lowest scorers in all four divisions and Liverpool finally recorded a first clean sheet at Anfield this season, but that could have changed.
“We made life difficult for Liverpool,” added Pearson. “We had the best chances in the first half.”
The quick, elusive, Sarr troubled Liverpool’s stand-in left-back James Milner. Alisson made a save from Sarr and a better one when Deulofeu escaped behind the leaders’ defence. Joe Gomez served as rescuer with two perfectly-judged interventions; with Liverpool down to their last two fit centre-backs, his return to form was equally well-timed. Their midfield was depleted with the loss of Gini Wijnaldum to a muscle injury. “Our squad is not getting bigger,” lamented Klopp.