They are off to conquer the world on Monday but first Liverpool had to conquer Watford, and although it was a long way from the best performance we have seen from the runaway league leaders this did make it a remarkable 16 wins from 17 games so far.
From the Premier League to Qatar for the Fifa Club World Cup, and two goals from Mohamed Salah to send Liverpool on their way, in a scruffy game against a Watford side who looked much more certain of themselves under new manager Nigel Pearson. The video assistant referee Jonathan Moss intervened to disallow a Sadio Mane goal after half-time and it was not until late in the game that Salah flicked in the second and passed the VAR examination successfully.
It had taken a long time to be sure of the victory, and Liverpool’s defence had not seemed as assured as usual, but with an attacking force like this there is always a remedy in reserve.
There were certainly chances for Watford, most notably the first half swipe that Ismail Sarr took at the ball just three minutes after Salah had scored his first. Hard to explain how the Senegal international missed this one. There was a less promising second chance in the moments that followed but the opportunity was missed again. On the touchline Pearson turned in disbelief to his staff.
The new Watford manager played a 4-4-1-1 formation with Abdoulaye Doucoure behind Troy Deeney and all of them behind the ball when Liverpool were in possession. The league leaders looked most vulnerable to its last placed team down the left flank where James Milner was picked at left-back and Andy Robertson given a rest until his second half introduction. It was there that Capoue got in to cut the ball back from Sarr.
Deeney had failed to make contact with a cross from Sarr on six minutes, another good chance that passed Watford by. It was from the corner from Sarr’s miss that Liverpool eventually found their way through. A header from Roberto Firmino, a ball hit first time over the top by Mane and then Salah switching the ball on to his right foot with the Watford defender Kiko Femenia largely bewitched by it all. The finish was curled past Ben Foster
The VAR Moss decided that a very small margin of Mane’s armpit was offside when he headed in Xherdan Shaqiri’s cross on 50 minutes, by which time the celebrations had been completed and the teams were awaiting kick-off. Liverpool wobbled a bit after that. Salah missed a couple of good chances, Firmino too. Georginio Wijnaldum had to come off with injury. On the touchline, Klopp berated Shaqiri and Salah.
Watford were never out of contention until the second goal. There was a fine performance from Joe Gomez alongside the rather less composed at times Virgil Van Dijk. Gerard Deulofeu was always a threat on the occasions he got the ball. Christian Kabasele had a solid game at centre-back. The chances that Watford had stumbled over in the first half never came again after the break. When substitute Divock Origi mishit a simple chance on 90 minutes, Salah flicked it in with his instep and through the legs of Kabasele for the decisive goal.