Oh, hello – there you are, Liverpool. The night it clicked again. The night they put on a show. A team which looked capable of winning more than just matches.
All of the outstanding individual features of Liverpool’s play when they really are at it were present. Virgil van Dijk knocking 50-yard passes with the ease and precision of a veteran links golfer, though he – more significantly – would score twice. Trent Alexander-Arnold fizzing the sort of violent crosses missing from Old Trafford on Sunday, three of the assists were his. Mohamed Salah’s speed was frightening and his marker Adam Masina had the sloping shoulders of a left back who dreaded the ball coming his way; you could smell the fear. Then there was Fabinho like a hoover; his long limbs and technique allowing him to win possession for his team so many times.
Collectively, Liverpool’s tempo was back as well. A sign of the pace at which Liverpool were operating was visualised by the moment van Dijk decided to maraud, leaving Fabinho to cover him. By the time van Dijk had made just past the half way line, the ball was already with Sadio Mane who could not find Salah at the decisive moment. Van Dijk did not seem to mind that a rare foray had been intercepted by the hallmarks you associate Jurgen Klopp’s team with.
Considering what had seemed a lack of variance in Liverpool’s midfield play against Manchester United, Klopp’s selection may have surprised some with James Milner replacing Jordan Henderson and Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum otherwise remaining in the same positions. Yet any discussion around balance and levels of creativity was removed from this narrative because of Liverpool’s appetite which quickly translated into confidence.
Klopp is the sort of manager who takes his programme notes seriously, using two pages to drive important messages (most Premier League managers take one). There was strong stuff here: “Nobody takes points from Liverpool now unless they are prepared to prise it from our clenched fist,” he wrote. “I haven’t seen many this season that can beat us when it comes to will and desire.”
This proved to be a calmer Anfield but only because of Liverpool's determination - it felt like they were trying to make a point. It helped enormously that they were able to begin with such ferocity. An issue for Watford, perhaps, might have been the margin of their victory on Friday when they won 5-1. When a team is able to stream forward like they did in Cardiff, it requires a shift in mentality to get something out of Liverpool – especially in the early stages. Yet Javi Gracia persisted with a two man strikeforce and the gaps were there for Liverpool to exploit.
Liverpool were able to take a ninth minute lead through Sadio Mane’s who battered his header past Ben Foster. It was an impressive finish by the Senegalese whose status in the team is growing having scored in five of Liverpool’s last six games. More impressive, however was the arcing cross from Alexander-Arnold. There appeared to be no danger. Suddenly there was. Three Watford defenders temporarily eliminated.
Liverpool’s mood was illustrated by Salah, who shifted through the gears as he raced down the wing leaving a vapour trail and the beleaguered Masina in his wake. It took a couple of Watford defenders to halt this particular run but when the ball arrived at Alexander-Arnold’s feet, the same thing happened as it did eleven minutes earlier. Mane, unmarked, had more work to do this time. Kicking towards the Anfield Road end, he was actually facing the Kop and this led to what can only be described as a thunderous back heel which conned Foster and raced past him.
It should really be mentioned that Klopp had chosen Mane in a central position, with Divock Origi on the left of the attack. The Belgian was starting a league game for the first time since early December when Liverpool went to Burnley and secured their 3-1 victory only after he was substituted. He had since scored and performed well in the FA Cup when he led the front line in an inexperienced team which eventually lost narrowly at Wolves. Klopp had selected him because of his attitude in training, described as “brilliant.”
Salah was unlucky not to extend Liverpool’s lead when he struck a post. In one glorious first half sequence of play, Origi lifted a pass to Salah, Salah cushioned an angled volley to Andy Robertson and all that was needed from the cross that followed was a final touch. They had beaten Watford at Anfield 5-0 and 6-1 in each of the last two seasons and if felt like another demolition was coming. It became 3-0 when Origi twisted in-field and disguised a low shot which again deceived Foster. When Alexander-Arnold whipped a free-kick towards van Dijk, that was 4-0. Five-nil had Alexander-Arnold's involvement again, forcing an unruly clearance which allowed Robertson – with another fine cross – to find van Dijk.
The Dutchman had not scored at Anfield since his debut against Everton. This was Liverpool’s biggest win of the season. They go to Goodison Park on Sunday with rediscovered conviction.
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